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Trump and Mattis aren’t close, don’t ‘see eye to eye,’ say officials

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis greets President Donald Trump, Jan. 18, 2018, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro/U.S. Navy)
July 26, 2018

The relationship between President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is facing some challenges, as Mattis is reportedly kept out of the loop on several major issues.

President Trump reportedly didn’t notify Mattis before making decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, halt military exercises with South Korea, or establish a Space Force as a sixth military branch.

Some officials have said the President isn’t close with Mattis, and doesn’t rely on him for advice as much as he does other officials – despite being one of the first cabinet members.

A former senior White House official told NBC News: “They don’t really see eye to eye.”

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A second former senior White House Official said the two men don’t spend time together outside of meetings.

“[Trump] respected ‘Mad Dog Mattis’ and thought he was tough, but they were never especially close,” the official said.

Mattis is said to have opposed the selection of John Bolton as national security advisor and also Mike Pompeo as secretary of state. They also disagreed on several other issues early in the administration, such as using enhanced interrogation methods on terrorism suspects.

In recent months, however, President Trump is said to have eased his reliance on Mattis and may believe Mattis is slow to follow policy directives. Instead, Trump relies on other advisers or his own instincts.

“He’s never been one of the go-tos in the gang that’s very close to the President,” a senior White House official said. “But the President has a lot of respect for him.”

A defense official said that Trump isn’t unhappy with Mattis, but no longer sees Mattis in his inner circle for decision-making.

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The rift in their relationship is said to have grown over the past six months, since Trump announced in December that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mattis opposed the move due to security concerns.

Mattis also opposed the decision to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist with border protection.

A senior White House official said Mattis “didn’t feel like the mission was well-defined.”

Some officials reject the claims that Mattis isn’t in the loop.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White called the claims “pure silliness.”

National Security Council Spokesman Garrett Marquis said: “For an unnamed expert to claim a department is not in the loop is ludicrous.”

Earlier in the administration, President Trump spoke with Mattis on the phone several times a day. Mattis also influenced key decisions, such as keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria. Mattis also delayed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Mattis has delayed and “slow walked” a number of other issues, including the policy on transgender service members in the military, as well as a policy to prohibit military dependents from accompanying U.S. troops on deployments.

“He knows that he told them to do it and they didn’t do it,” another former senior White House official said.

The delays were considered a “low-grade annoyance” for Trump, “but cumulatively they’ve begun to add up,” the official said.