Defense

WaPo columnist: White House discussing replacements if Mattis leaves

The White House has compiled an informal list of potential replacements for Defense Secretary James Mattis in preparation for the retired general's hypothetical decision to leave his Cabinet position, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Post columnist Josh Rogin wrote that the administration has been considering possible replacements for weeks, but no decisions have been made. Officials inside the White House reportedly expect that Mattis will leave his position in the coming months, though there's no indication his departure is imminent or that he will be forced out.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment to the newspaper.

Trump addressed the report shortly after it was published, saying during a meeting with GOP leadership that he's "very happy" with Mattis and that "he'll stay" in his current job. 

"I think he's a terrific person," Trump said. "He's doing a fantastic job as secretary.

"We're having a lot of victories, we're having victories that people don't even know about, and he's highly respected all over the world," Trump added.

A senior White House official told Rogin that Trump has "always respected" Mattis, but that speculation about who might replace the secretary is "more real than ever."

Congressional and administration officials told the Post that retired Army Gen. Jack Keane is considered the administration's top choice to replace Mattis. Keane told NPR shortly after the 2016 presidential election that he was offered the job at the outset of the administration, but declined for personal reasons.

Keane declined to comment to the Post for its story.

Other potential appointees being considered on an informal basis reportedly include Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), as well as former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.).

Mattis was among the senior level aides and advisers named in Bob Woodward's forthcoming book about the Trump White House.

The Defense secretary is said to have told staffers that Trump had the understanding of a "fifth- or sixth-grader" following a meeting to discuss strategy on the Korean peninsula earlier this year.

Mattis put out a statement Tuesday night denying that he ever said or heard the quotes attributed to him in the 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 in a statement.

He added that he embraces debate and the competition of ideas when determining foreign policy strategy.

"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.

Trump has highlighted Mattis's denial in his response to the book and noted again on Wednesday that he was "very honored" that the Secretary issued the statement.

Mattis was confirmed as Defense secretary by a 98-1 vote following Trump's inauguration.

Updated at 4:26 p.m.

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