Mattis calls Woodward's reporting on him 'fiction'

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday pushed back against a passage concerning him in journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, calling it “fiction” and “a product of someone's rich imagination."

The Watergate reporter wrote that Mattis once described President Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” when it comes to the Korean Peninsula, according to The Washington Post.

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“The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence,” Mattis said in a statement. “While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility.”

The Post report on Tuesday recounts a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, citing Woodward’s upcoming book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” 

At the meeting, Trump questioned U.S. government spending in the region, as well as the significance of having a big U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, Woodward wrote.

Mattis after the meeting “was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader,’” according to the Post's account of the book.

The defense chief said in his statement that “responsible policy making in the real world is inherently messy,” though “it is also essential that we challenge every assumption to find the best option.

“I embrace such debate and the open competition of ideas. In just over a year, these robust discussions and deliberations have yielded significant results, including the near annihilation of the [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] 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.  Our defense policies have also enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress,” Mattis wrote. 

"In serving in this administration, the idea that I would show contempt for the elected Commander-in-Chief, President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE, or tolerate disrespect to the office of the President from within our Department of Defense, is a product of someone's rich imagination."

Woodward’s book is set to be released next week and has already been fiercely criticized by those within the Trump administration, including the president himself.