President Donald Trump said he is unsure whether Defense Secretary James Mattis is planning to step down from his post, adding that he regards the retired general as “sort of a Democrat,” Reuters reported.
“It could be that he is. I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth. But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington,” Trump said in an interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes”.
This marks the first time that Trump has publicly said anything negative about Mattis, who last month told reporters not to take seriously reports that he may be leaving.
Asked about Trump’s remarks, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said in a brief statement: “Secretary Mattis is laser-focused on doing his job — ensuring the U.S. military remains the most lethal force on the planet.”
Mattis’ future has become a focus of media speculation, particularly after last month’s release of a book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward that portrayed Mattis privately disparaging Trump to associates. However, Mattis has strongly denied making any such remarks.
Mattis is not political by nature, and previously made no secret of the fact that he was not looking to become secretary of defense – or even return to Washington – when Trump was elected, Reuters adds.
The retired Marine general had stepped down from the military in 2013 and taken a job at Stanford University. He told his Senate confirmation hearing last year he was “enjoying a full life west of the Rockies” when the call came about the position.
In his last years as commander of Central Command, Mattis was at odds with the Obama administration over its policy toward Iran, with the Marine general taking a harder line about pursuing action against Iran than the White House wanted, CNN noted.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump also expressed ambivalence toward NATO, at one point saying he knew more about the alliance “from the standpoint of fairness” than Mattis did.
“I like NATO, NATO’s fine. But you know what? We shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe. And then on top of that, they take advantage of us on trade. They’re not going to do it anymore. They understand that,” Trump told interviewer Lesley Stahl, Fox News informed.
The President denied that Mattis had been required to explain to him that NATO and other alliances existed to “prevent World War III,” a claim made in Woodward’s recently published book about the Trump White House.