Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he ‘will not speak ill’ of Donald Trump in his first televised interview since leaving the president’s administration because he does not want to ‘tear this country apart.’
But he conceded Trump is an ‘unusual’ occupant of the Oval Office.
‘I will not speak ill of a sitting president. I’m not going to do it,’ Mattis told CBS News in an interview to be broadcast on ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ this weekend.
‘He’s an unusual president, our president is. And I think that especially with, just the rabid nature of politics today, we gotta be careful. We could tear this country apart,’ he added.
James Mattis said he ‘will not speak ill’ of Donald Trump in his first televised interview since leaving the president’s administration
Mattis left President Trump’s administration at the end of 2018
Mattis, who quit as Trump’s first Defense secretary only for the president to later claim he fired him, is on a media tour to promote his forth coming book ‘Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.’
He was called one of the ‘grown ups’ in Trump’s chaotic White House – part of a circle of advisers that included former White House chief of staff John Kelly.
His departure was controversial and came after policy disagreements with the president.
Mattis told CBS of his exit: ‘This is how I saw the strength of America, that we keep our alliances together and we keep them tight. And if I wasn’t the right person to do this, [then] the President needed someone more aligned with his views.’
Mattis said he has not spoken with the president since he resigned.
The former Pentagon chief has emerged more in the public of late, after laying low following his departure from Trump’s administration at the end of 2018. His book is due to hit shelves September 3.
He’s given a few interviews in the past week and had an except of his book published in the Wall Street Journal.
The retired Marine Corps General hinted he will be critical of Trump, who he reportedly clashed during his tenure as at the Pentagon.
A respected soldier who fought in the Persian Gulf War in addition to doing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mattis didn’t publicly clash with Trump but their differences were reported out at the time.
Bob Woodward, in his book ‘Fear’ on the Trump administration, quoted Mattis as saying the president had the understanding of a ‘fifth or sixth grader’ on some issues.
He also reported the defense secretary openly defied orders from the commander in chief. Mattis denied the allegations in the book when it was published.
Mattis resigned after butting heads with President Trump on several policy issues. He has recently begun speaking out against the president and explaining why he decided to quit as Pentagon chief
But the former defense secretary said he would not be ‘eternal’ in his silence on Trump.
‘There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever,’ Mattis told The Atlantic in an interview published Thursday.
He said he felt he owed a period of silence to the administration and American people following his departure – especially on the grounds he decided to leave.
‘If you leave an administration, you owe some silence. When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country,’ Mattis said.
‘I know the malevolence some people feel for this country,’ he continued, ‘and we have to give the people who are protecting us some time to carry out their duties without me adding my criticism to the cacophony that is right now so poisonous.’
After serving just short of two years as Trump’s Defense secretary, Mattis submitted his resignation letter on December 20, 2018 – one day after Trump announced he was withdrawing troops from Syria.
Shortly before Trump’s announcement, Mattis said troops would remain in Syria following the defeat of ISIL to ensure the terrorist organization did not regroup.
Mattis, on Wednesday, explained that he left the administration because Trump was ignoring his advice to keep faith in U.S. allies.
‘When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution,’ he wrote in the Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Despite being at odds with the president for most of his tenure as Pentagon chief, Mattis said attacking him following his departure would weaken the president at a time when the country is facing real external threats.
‘You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected Commander in Chief,’ he said in his interview. ‘I may not like a Commander in Chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the Commander in Chief there, and to further weaken him when we’re up against real threats—I mean, we could be at war on the Korean peninsula, every time they start launching something.’
Mattis, however, did claim that Trump is being counterproductive with his foreign policy initiatives and international interventions.
North Korea has fired several short-range missiles, which the president claims does not violate the agreement made at the Singapore Summit in 2018 where Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un held bilateral meetings to work toward denuclearization.
‘North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,’ Trump tweeted in May. ‘I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?’
Mattis wasn’t satisfied with the classification, claiming his dismissal of the missiles tests were ‘beneath the dignity of his office.
‘Any Marine general or any other senior servant of the people of the United States would find that, to use a mild euphemism, counterproductive and beneath the dignity of the presidency,’ Mattis said.
Mattis said his resignation letter is included in the book to help people better understand why he decided he could no longer serve in the Trump administration.
‘I had no choice but to leave,’ he said. ‘That’s why the letter is in the book. I want people to understand why I couldn’t stay. I’ve been informed by four decades of experience, and I just couldn’t connect the dots anymore.’