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Mattis: 'I had no choice but to leave' Trump administration

Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE said he had “no choice but to leave” the Trump administration in an interview with The Atlantic, but was reluctant to share additional details about his acrimonious departure.

Mattis pointed to his resignation letter, which made clear he had differences with President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE, in explaining his decision to leave after nearly two years as Defense secretary.  

“That’s why the letter is in the book. I want people to understand why I couldn’t stay. I’ve been informed by four decades of experience, and I just couldn’t connect the dots anymore,” Mattis said.

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His first book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” will be published on Sept. 3. Early reviews have suggested it will not be a tell-all of his time working for Trump. 

The general said it would not be appropriate for him to speak more loudly about any differences he might have had with Trump. 

“If you leave an administration, you owe some silence," he said, telling The Atlantic that his decision follows the French concept of “devoir de réserve,” or “duty of silence.” 

"When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country,” said Mattis. 

“They still have the responsibility of protecting this great big experiment of ours. I know the malevolence some people feel for this country, and we have to give the people who are protecting us some time to carry out their duties without me adding my criticism to the cacophony that is right now so poisonous.”

Mattis stepped down from the administration in December, issuing a letter that explained some of his differences. While he initially was to stay on as Defense secretary until the end of February, Trump sped the date up to Jan. 1. 

Mattis's resignation came after Trump decided to withdraw troops from Syria and as he pushed for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Mattis had urged Trump to keep troops in Syria and resigned after his pleas were rejected.

Mattis told The Atlantic he may at some point speak more openly about his feelings.

“There is a period in which I owe my silence,” he told the outlet. “It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever.”