Trump claims he demanded Jim Mattis resign as defense secretary — but Woodward's new book has a different account about the retired Marine's departure

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to President Donald Trump in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, March 23, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
  • President Donald Trump has continued to assert that Jim Mattis was fired as his defense secretary rather than voluntarily resigning.
  • Trump on Tuesday said he asked Mattis for a letter of resignation.
  • The president's recollection of the incident contradicts the account in Bob Woodward's new book on the White House, "Rage."
  • In the book, Woodward wrote that Mattis made two copies of his resignation letter — one copy to take with him to a contentious meeting with Trump and the other copy in his office that would eventually be released to news organizations.

President Donald Trump has continued to assert that his former defense secretary was fired rather than voluntarily resigning, a claim contradicted by the renowned journalist Bob Woodward's new book.

Speaking at an ABC News town hall on Tuesday, Trump criticized Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, as one of many "disgruntled former employees" who left his administration under adverse circumstances.

"Highly overrated general, didn't do the job," Trump said of the highly revered retired officer.Advertisement

Mattis announced his resignation in December 2018, citing disagreements with the president's decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria. The withdrawal, which Mattis strongly opposed, abandoned the US's Kurdish allies in the region.

"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," Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to Trump.

But during the town hall on Tuesday, Trump said Mattis "didn't resign."
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"Give me a letter. No more. Give me a letter," Trump recalled himself saying. "I said: 'Jim, give me a letter. It's time for you to move on.'"

"He gave me a letter, but I fired him," Trump added. "That's called, 'I fired him.' Now, General Mattis didn't do the job. I wasn't happy with him."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.Yuri Gripas/Reuters
The president's recollection of the incident contradicts an account in Woodward's recent book, "Rage." Known for his work uncovering the Watergate scandal in 1972, Woodward has written numerous books about American presidents and their top advisers based on extensive interviews with insiders.Advertisement

In his latest book, Woodward wrote that Mattis had drafted two copies of a resignation letter immediately before a meeting with the president. Mattis, according to the book, wanted to persuade Trump to roll back his abrupt decision to pull US forces out of northern Syria in late December.

Mattis took one copy of his resignation letter and left the remaining copy on top of his desk drawer, Woodward wrote.

Mattis failed to convince the president that the US presence in the region was essential in combatting the Islamic State militant group.Advertisement

"Mr. President, it's probably best you read this," Mattis said before handing Trump his letter, according to "Rage."

Trump reportedly responded to Mattis's letter: "It's not a real nice letter."

"Mr. President, if you and I don't agree that we're parting over the allies — the way we look at allies — then the press is going to come up, rightly, with a hundred different reasons why I'm leaving," Mattis is said to have replied.Advertisement

Trump agreed with Mattis's assessment and asked whether the letter would be publicized.

"It's got to be public," Mattis reportedly said. "Number one, it'll leak if we don't do it. Just put the thing out there and say, 'This is all it is.'"

After leaving the White House, Mattis called his chief of staff and instructed him to release the letter on his desk to the media, Woodward wrote.Advertisement

Mattis mostly kept silent following his resignation, a move that broke with other former senior White House officials who left the Trump administration in an unceremonious fashion. In June, however, he released a statement to The Atlantic suggesting Trump was a threat to the US Constitution.

"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us," Mattis wrote. "We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership." "We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution," Mattis added.Advertisement

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