Speculation is mounting that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis may leave the Trump administration.US President Donald Trump says he is unsure whether Defense Secretary James Mattis is planning to step down from his post, but told CBS’ 60 Minutes in a pre-taped interview that the retired general might and that he regards Mattis as “sort of a Democrat”.
“It could be that he is” planning to depart, Trump said, according to an excerpt of a transcript released on Sunday before the show airs.
“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.”
This marks the first time the Republican president 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 US 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.
Mattis has strongly denied making any such remarks.
Trump had been deferential towards Mattis, saying on September 5 his defence chief would remain in his job.
Mattis is not political by nature, and previously made no secret of the fact that he was not looking to become secretary of defence – or even return to Washington – when Trump was elected.
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.
Asked last month about reports he may be leaving, Mattis said: “I wouldn’t take it seriously at all.”
Western officials privately extol Mattis, whose standing among NATO allies has risen as they become increasingly bewildered by Trump’s policies on trade and Iran and disoriented by his outreach to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One factor thought to have darkened Mattis’ prospects is this year’s arrival in the White House of Mira Ricardel, who now has the powerful post of deputy national security adviser and is believed to dislike Mattis, current and former officials have told Reuters.
He is also seen as less hawkish on Iran than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.