Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it

President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE on Tuesday confirmed a plan was in the works to take out Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017 and that he was supportive of it, but that former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump's 'Enemies List' — end of year edition The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE was opposed.

The president's disclosure that an assassination operation was discussed came as part of a lengthy diatribe against Mattis, but it confirmed a piece of reporting from 2018 that Trump disputed at the time. 

“I would've rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general," Trump said on "Fox & Friends."


The president added that he did not regret the decision not to target Assad, saying he "could've lived either way." The Syrian leader has overseen the deaths of scores of civilians amid a years-long civil war that has ravaged the country.

Journalist Bob Woodward reported in his 2018 book, "Fear," that Trump urged Mattis that the U.S. should “f------ kill” Assad following an April 2017 chemical attack on civilians in Syria.

Mattis reportedly went along with the president’s demands during the phone call, but immediately told aides after hanging up that they would take a “much more measured” approach.

Trump was asked about the reporting at the time and said the assassination of Assad was "never even discussed."

"No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated and it should not have been written about in the book," Trump said in September 2018.

Trump on Tuesday criticized Mattis at length. Mattis resigned at the end of 2018 after Trump abruptly announced he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, a decision he later reversed.


"To me, he was a terrible general. He was a bad leader, and he wasn't doing the job with ISIS," Trump said. "He was not doing the job in Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS."

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade interjected to praise Mattis as a great American who served his country.

"I don't say he is a good American or a bad American," Trump replied. "I just say he didn't do a good job."