White House National Security Advisor John Bolton and his deputy are reportedly spreading rumors about U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’s imminent departure in order to squeeze him out, according to a Foreign Policy report, which cites two well-placed sources.
“[They want] to build the sense that he is done for,” one of the sources, a former defense official, told Foreign Policy. “They have the knives out.”
Hawkish Bolton and Mira Ricardel, his deputy national security advisor, have repeatedly clashed with Mattis over Defense Department personnel appointments and believe the defense secretary is “not ideologically aligned” with President Donald Trump’s administration, the source said.
President Trump called Mattis a “Democrat” in a recent “60 Minutes” interview, a strong indication that there may be some truth to the rumors that his relationship with the Secretary of Defense is deteriorating.
“Mira and Bolton are the only ones who benefit if Secretary Mattis leaves,” according to the Foreign Policy report, which quoted a Trump administration official. The secretary is “highly regarded” within the cabinet and by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the former official said.
The issue of Mattis’s departure is being closely watched in Washington because he’s regarded as an experienced professional whose presence is reassuring to countries that have disagreed with the Trump administration on NATO and Iran, for example.
The Pentagon is frustrated with the irregularity of National Security Council meetings in which the president gets assessments and opinions from the defense secretary and other officials, according to the former official.
“What that means is that the president is not regularly hearing in any organized and disciplined fashion from the full range of his advisors,” the former official said. “He is getting [the meetings] one-off and ad hoc, and often controlled by Bolton.”