President Donald Trump announced that outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis would leave two months earlier than planned after media coverage of his scathing resignation letter was far more negative than the president realized it would be.
On Thursday, Trump announced that Mattis would be “retiring” with “distinction” in February.
Shortly after his tweet, Mattis’ scathing resignation letter went public.
Mattis wrote that, “one core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.”
Writing that the US should stand up to Russia and China’s attempts to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model,” Mattis added, “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects. I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019.”
The media reaction to the resignation letter surprised Trump, because as The New York Times reports, “Trump had not read the letter.”
“As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians,” The Times reported. “The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.”
In a tweet Sunday, Trump announced that Mattis would be forced out January 1 and be replaced with Patrick Shanahan, the deputy defense secretary who previously served as an executive at Boeing.
Trump made someone else fire Mattis:
Like most of the firings in Trump’s first two years in office, the president had someone else do the dirty work. The Times reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was tasked with informing Mattis that he would have to leave on January 1. Mattis, who resigned after Trump decided to pull troops out of Syria, had planned to stay on to ensure a “smooth transition.”
“Mr. Mattis had wanted to stay through a NATO defense ministers meeting scheduled for February, hoping to enshrine recent moves by the alliance to bulk up its security compact as a bulwark against Russia,” The Times added.
Top Syria envoy follows Mattis:
Shortly after news of the Syria withdrawal and Mattis’ resignation broke, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS, announced he is resigning over the Syria decision.
McGurk told “colleagues this weekend that he could not in good conscience carry out Mr. Trump’s new policy,” The Times reported.
John McCain warned new acting defense chief was ‘fox in the henhouse’:
Mattis’ acting replacement Shanahan was nearly blocked from being confirmed to his deputy position by the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
“I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse," McCain said during the confirmation proceedings, referring to Shanahan’s time at one of the biggest defense contractors in the world.
"The answers that you gave to the questions, whether intentionally or unintentionally, were almost condescending, and I’m not overjoyed that you came from one of the five corporations that receive 90 percent of the taxpayers’ dollars,” McCain told Shanahan.
"Do not [avoid questions like] that again Mr. Shanahan, or I will not take your name up for a vote before this committee,” McCain said. "I'm not going to sit here and watch you duck every question and expect that everything is going to go smoothly. It’s not.”