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Photo: AUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's boast last night that he has a "bigger & more powerful" Nuclear Button (caps, Trump's) than North Korea has some administration insiders worried that we could blunder into war.

What they're saying: "Every war in history was an accident," said one administration insider. "You just don't know what's going to send him over the edge."

  • The "him" was Trump, but could also refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who started the "nuclear button" exchange with a New Year's Day speech on Monday in which he said: "The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table" (desk).
  • The N.Y. Times' succinct homepage headline: "Trump Taunts Kim."

But, but, but: Trump insiders caution that the media tends to over-interpret and over-cover statements that Trump has made just to stir the pot, and with little prior thought.

  • Their view is basically: Sometimes, a tweet is just a tweet.

Why it matters: The danger here is that Kim is also an unpredictable actor, and not one fully understood by U.S. intelligence.

  • As one outside adviser to the West Wing told me: "This is the most important issue on the president's desk. We are in a hair-trigger environment. And this is potentially a shooting war with nuclear risk."
  • The adviser added: "What intel analysis or foreign policy advice leads to employing this as a tactic?"

Be smart: Some West Wing insiders remain convinced that the risk of war is higher than most outsiders realize.

Reality check: No button — just a football and a biscuit ... "[T]he president doesn't actually have a physical button," by AP's Matthew Pennington notes:

  • "The process for launching a nuclear strike is secret and complex and involves the use of a nuclear 'football,' which is carried by a rotating group of military officers everywhere the president goes and is equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans."
  • "If the president were to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. Those codes are recorded on a card known as the 'biscuit' that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command" (USSTRATCOM, located at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb.)

Same for Kim ... Per the N.Y. Times: "[O]fficials ... dismissed Mr. Kim's comment that he now has a 'nuclear button' on his desk as a rhetorical flourish"

  • "Currently, Mr. Kim cannot launch a weapon in seconds, as his declaration seemed intended to suggest. All of the tests he has conducted of intercontinental ballistic missiles have involved liquid-fuel weapons that take hours, sometimes days, to prepare for a launching."

Go deeper: "Here's how Trump launches a nuclear weapon," by Axios' Shannon Vavra.

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Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”