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President Trump on Tuesday confirmed that he wanted to order an assassination against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but former Secretary of Defense James Mattis "was against it."

What he's saying: "I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it," Trump said on "Fox & Friends." His comments confirm a detail reported in journalist Bob Woodward's 2018 book "Fear."

  • "No, I don't regret that. I could have lived either way with that. I considered him, certainly not a good person. But I had a shot to take him out if I wanted and Mattis was against it. Mattis was against most of that stuff. He'd keep you in military but he didn't know how to win."

Reality check: Trump's comments Tuesday contradicted his own statement to reporters in 2018, when Trump said an operation to kill Assad "was never even contemplated."

Context: Trump wanted the assassination after it was believed the Syrian government used chemical weapons in an attack in Douma, Syria, according to Woodward's reporting.

  • The administration instead eventually conducted targeted airstrikes on Syria's chemical weapons sites.

Go deeper

Democratic opposition mounts to Biden picking retired general to lead Pentagon

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2016. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

More Democratic lawmakers are speaking out against President-elect Joe Biden's nomination of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary, citing the long-running precedent of the National Security Act, which requires civilian control at the Pentagon.

The big picture: Traditional Biden allies have put his team on notice that Austin is not guaranteed the congressional waiver that he needs to serve, since he hasn't been retired from active duty for the requisite seven years.

Pentagon pick may need GOP rescue

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Lloyd Austin will begin courtesy calls with Congress next week, but his nomination to be Defense secretary may not even make it out of committee unless Republicans help grant the waiver he needs to hold the job, people familiar with the matter say.

The big picture: While civil rights groups are hailing Austin’s nomination to be the first Black Defense secretary, some Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee have already said they oppose the waiver, leaving it up to Republicans to rescue him — and some predict the vote will fail in committee.

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.