Trump on Mattis: 'I Didn't Like the Job He Was Doing'

President Trump, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, and Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis render honors during the Presidential Wreath Laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, May 28, 2018. (Photo by Sgt. James K. McCann)
President Trump, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, and Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis render honors during the Presidential Wreath Laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, May 28, 2018. (Photo by Sgt. James K. McCann)

President Donald Trump said he asked Jim Mattis to hand in his resignation after growing unhappy with the former defense secretary's performance, according to a new wide-ranging interview with The New York Times.

The president said he told Mattis to "give me a letter" of resignation because he "didn't like the job he was doing" overseeing the Defense Department.

Mattis, a decorated and revered retired Marine four-star general, resigned Dec. 20, just after Trump announced plans to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

"He didn't just give me that letter. I told him," Trump told the Times on Thursday, despite initially announcing that Mattis was retiring in February.

Trump just didn't like the job Mattis was doing, he said.

"I got him more money than the military has ever seen before," Trump said. "And I wasn't happy with the job that he was doing at all. And I said it's time."

In that resignation letter, Mattis bluntly outlined areas in which he and Trump had differing opinions. That included "treating allies with respect," Mattis wrote, and "being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors," such as China and Russia.

Trump, Mattis added, had "the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects."

The reason Mattis wrote that, Trump told the Times, is because the commander in chief had requested he step down.

"That's why in the letter he wrote, 'You have to have your own choice,' " Trump said. "The reason he said that was because I said, 'You're just not my choice.' "

Trump did not state why he'd been unhappy with Mattis' performance as defense secretary.

Mattis originally planned to leave his post at the end of this month, but Trump announced in December that the deputy defense secretary at the time, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, would take over Jan. 1.

Now Shanahan, who Trump called a "solid guy" who's "doing a great job" could stay in the post permanently, the president added. Shanahan's business background could serve the department well, he added.

"You know it's interesting. Historically, you just never -- you rarely put a military person in, which surprises me," Trump said about the defense secretary position. "... Normally, a business person goes in and, I mean you have one exception or two exceptions, but historically a business person goes in to the secretary of defense."

There are still "a tremendous number of people would like that position," though, Trump added, denying that Mattis' departure and other events have led to chaos in the White House.

Trump also told the Times he'd spend a second term focused on national security after spending the first rebuilding the military, "which was truly depleted," he said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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