TRUMP KICKS MATTIS OUT MONTHS EARLY!
President Donald Trump announced on Sunday he would replace Defense Secretary James Mattis at the start of the new year, two months earlier than Mattis’ planned departure.
“I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!” Trump tweeted.
Mattis announced his resignation on Thursday with a letter saying his views were not aligned with Trump, who said Mattis would retire at the end of February.
Mattis’ last day is expected to be Jan. 1, according to a source familiar with the matter. He is not expected to have a big, public farewell ceremony to try to prevent further exacerbating tensions between himself and Trump, the source said.
But Mr. 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 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 later that morning, the president announced that he was removing Mr. Mattis from his post by Jan. 1, two months before the defense secretary had planned to depart. Mr. Trump said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy and a former Boeing executive, would serve as the acting defense secretary, praising him as “very talented” and adding that “he will be great!”
Mr. Trump’s sudden announcement that he was firing a man who had already quit was the exclamation point to a tumultuous week at the Pentagon, where officials have been reeling from day after day of presidential tweets announcing changes in American military policy.
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. But Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter did him no favors on that count: It had become hard to envision how he could continue for two months to represent a president whose own views toward Russia are far more benign.
As it became clear that the two men’s ideas of how to treat both friends and adversaries were so publicly at odds, the White House decided that there would be no reason for Mr. Mattis to stay on during what two officials called his “lame duck” period.
A senior administration official briefed a handful of reporters on the decision, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Mattis about Sunday morning.
The official said the idea is to help ensure a smooth transition to the new secretary, whose nomination is expected “shortly.”
“It is just untenable to have someone stretch out over a long period of time when everyone knows they are a lame duck,” the official said, adding that in order to ensure the smoothest transition with Congress, administration and allies, “there shouldn’t be any ambiguity that the person in charge is following the president’s policies. “
The official said that Shanahan had been essentially “running the building” while Mattis worked on policy and outreach to military and allies.
A source familiar with the matter said Trump was mad at the extensive coverage given to Mattis’ resignation and therefore was forcing him to leave earlier than he originally planned.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said in a statement that “the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the President. The department remains focused on national security.”
The Pentagon updated its statement later Sunday, with chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White tweeting, “The Secretary of Defense serves at the pleasure of the President. #SecDef Mattis will work with Deputy Shanahan and department leadership to ensure the #DOD remains focused on the defense of the nation during this transition.”
Mattis’ retirement announcement on Thursday led much of Washington, including key Republicans, to express alarm about the change in leadership at the Pentagon. The announcement itself followed Trump’s decision to call for a full withdrawal of troops from Syria and consideration of a drawdown in Afghanistan.
Trump did not immediately realize how critical Mattis’ resignation letter was until some time after the two men ended their Oval Office meeting last week.
Aides said the President was relatively relaxed in the aftermath and seemed fine with Mattis’ decision to depart. But after Trump announced Mattis’ retirement and the Pentagon released Mattis’ letter, Trump began watching the coverage and realized the former general was leaving in protest of him — and not quietly, either.
The stream of praise that followed from Democrats and Republicans alike irked Trump. He remarked that Mattis was only being portrayed as the smartest guy in the world because he was leaving the Trump administration.
A source close to the White House told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Friday that Trump was angry about Mattis’ resignation letter. The source said Trump “hates the letter,” but “hates the coverage more.”
Even as he accelerated Mr. Mattis’s exit, Mr. Trump seemed to suggest a slower one for the 2,000 troops in Syria — a drawdown he announced last week over Mr. Mattis’s objection. On Twitter, Mr. Trump said that he had spoken with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that morning to discuss “the slow and highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area.”
Just days ago, Mr. Trump declared victory over the Islamic State and said that troops would be pulled out immediately. “They’re all coming back,” Mr. Trump said in a video broadcast on Wednesday, “and they’re coming back now.”
On Sunday, a senior administration official would not say what that ultimately meant for the timetable for troops in Syria, but said the president had reiterated to Mr. Erdogan that the United States would remain there long enough to ensure an orderly handover and “help out logistically” to eradicate any territory still held by the Islamic State.
The official spoke amid reports that Turkey was moving troops near a town in northern Syria held by Kurdish allies of the United States, even though Turkey had said it would put off a promised offensive after Mr. Trump’s hasty decision to leave Syria.
Mr. Mattis resigned on Thursday in large part over that pullout order. The defense secretary was also upset about Mr. Trump’s decision to bring home half of the 14,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan and his order to deploy American troops to the border with Mexico.
Brett H. McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, is also stepping down over Mr. Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria, telling colleagues this weekend that he could not in good conscience carry out Mr. Trump’s new policy.
Mr. McGurk, a seasoned diplomat who was considered by many to be the glue holding together the sprawling international coalition fighting the terrorist group, was supposed to retire in February. But according to an email he sent to his staff, he decided to move his departure forward to Dec. 31 after Mr. Trump did not heed his own commanders and blindsided America’s allies in the region by abruptly ordering the pullout.
Shanahan, Trump’s choice to replace Mattis on an interim basis, was confirmed as Mattis’ No. 2 in the Pentagon last year by an overwhelming margin that came after a confirmation process that included a clash with the late Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain.
Mr. Shanahan, who, like Mr. Mattis, is from Washington State, was at Boeing for 30 years, in a number of jobs including general manager of the 787 Dreamliner and senior vice president of supply chain and operations. Aides say that Mr. Trump likes him in part because he often tells the president that he is correct to complain about the expense of defense systems.
“Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
At the Defense Department last year, Mr. Shanahan scuttled a pledge to destroy the military’s existing stockpile of cluster munitions, allowing the military to once again arm itself with a type of weapon that has been banned by 102 countries largely because of concerns that the arms disproportionately harm civilians.
Asked about the decision at a conference in October, Mr. Shanahan attributed the move to what he said was the threat posed by North Korea.
On Sunday, in N’Djamena, Chad, President Emmanuel Macron of France criticized Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, saying that “an ally must be reliable.” French forces are part of a coalition led by the United States aimed at destroying the Islamic State, but it is unclear what will happen to the coalition now.
Mr. Macron also praised Mr. Mattis, seeming to contrast him to Mr. Trump. “I want here to pay tribute to General Mattis,” Mr. Macron said. “For a year we have seen how he was a reliable partner.”
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