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John Kelly defends James Mattis: 'The president did not fire him'

John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE’s former chief of staff, is defending former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisNearly 300 more former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter John Kelly called Trump 'the most flawed person' he's ever met: report Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies MORE after the president said that he had the "honor" of firing "world’s most overrated general."

On Wednesday night, Trump denounced Mattis in a pair of tweets after the former Pentagon chief released a scorching statement criticizing the president's leadership amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

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“The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, told The Washington Post on Thursday.

Mattis, who served as Trump’s secretary of Defense in 2017 and 2018, on Wednesday ripped the president as a divisive leader who threatens to erode the U.S. military’s tradition of staying out of politics.

“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 in a 650-word statement published in The Atlantic, his most direct Trump criticism since he left the administration.

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A handful of GOP lawmakers have come out saying they agree with Mattis, himself a decorated former Marine general, with Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE (R-Alaska) admitting that she is "struggling" with her decision on whether to vote for Trump's reelection.

When Mattis resigned in 2018, he alluded to his disagreement with Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, which several Republican lawmakers also disagreed with. 

"Because you have a 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 at the time.

Kelly said that the president must have “clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused.” Kelly has also been critical of the president since leaving his post as chief of staff in 2018. 

“The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his [resignation] letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is an honorable man,” Kelly told the Post.