WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis will leave office in February, President Trump said Thursday — removing one of the few moderating influencers in the Trump administration.
“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 said in a resignation letter to Trump.
He said he would leave on Feb. 28, 2019, to give a new defense secretary time to prepare before NATO meetings and while the current chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, is still in that position.
“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,” Mattis said in his letter. “While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”
Trump announced the departure in a tweet— a move that will send the second shock wave to nervous U.S. allies in two days. The president unilaterally announced Wednesday that U.S. forces would leave Syria immediately.
“General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years. During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting,” Trump tweeted.
“General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations,” Trump also tweeted. “A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly.”
On Wednesday, a tight-lipped Mattis met with Vice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon in a two-hour-plus meeting.
Trump had denied he has been looking to replace Mattis, usually a precursor to the president removing an appointee.
Among the names that had been floated in the past as possible replacements are former Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri, current GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former Army Gen. Jack Keane, and David McCormick, who served as undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs in the George W. Bush administration.