WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis said remarks attributed to him by anonymous sources criticizing President Trump in a soon-to-be-released book are “contemptuous words” that are pure fiction.
“In serving in this administration, the idea that I would show contempt for the elected Commander-in-Chief, President Trump, or tolerate disrespect to the office of the President from within our Department of Defense, is a product of someone’s rich imagination,” Mattis said in a statement he issued en route to Asia.
“The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence,” Mattis said Tuesday.
Mattis is accused of saying Trump has the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader,” remarks allegedly uttered after the defense secretary attempted to explain to the president the situation in Korea with ground forces. That alleged incident is one portrayed in a book written by Bob Woodward on the inner machinations of the Trump White House.
On Tuesday, the White House dismissed the book claiming that details in it were made up by individuals with an agenda. “This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Mattis has recently been more outspoken is his criticism of media stories, calling them “fiction” — especially when they suggest he and Trump have differences over key issues or that he is on his way out of office. He returned to that euphemism in criticizing the Woodward book.
“While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility,” Mattis said.
“While responsible policy making in the real world is inherently messy, it is also essential that we challenge every assumption to find the best option. I embrace such debate and the open competition of ideas,” he said.
“In just over a year, these robust discussions and deliberations have yielded significant results, including the near annihilation of the ISIS caliphate, unprecedented burden sharing by our NATO allies, the repatriation of U.S. service member remains from North Korea, and the improved readiness of our armed forces,” Mattis said. “Our defense policies have also enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.”