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Trump Announces He Will Nominate Mattis for SecDef

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2014. Allison Shelley/Getty Images
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2014. Allison Shelley/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump said he will nominate retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary.

Trump made the announcement on Thursday night at a speech in Cincinnati.

"I will not tell you. I refuse to tell you. Don't let it outside of this room. Do you promise? Raise your hand. I will not tell you that one of our great great generals, don't let it outside, right, and of course the press is very honest, so never let this go," he said. "We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense. But we're not announcing it until Monday so don't tell anybody."

Trump's comments came shortly after his transition team said he hadn't yet picked a candidate for defense secretary despite multiple news outlets reporting Mattis had been selected.

"No decision has been made yet with regard to Secretary of Defense.#TrumpTransition," Jason Miller, communications director for the team, tweeted on Thursday evening.

The Washington Post was the first to report the Mattis selection, citing "people familiar with the decision." The Post reported an announcement was expected next week. CNN followed suit, citing an unnamed source.

Calls to Mattis' personal cell phone went straight to voicemail.

A spokewoman for Mattis declined to comment on the record about Trump's announcement.

Related: Mattis Pick Could See Senate Clash on Women in Combat, PTSD

Mattis was long rumored to be the leading contender for the job. Indeed, his name was once floated for the Republican presidential nomination -- speculation he dismissed earlier this year when he said "I haven't given any thought to" a presidential run.

Trump said he was "very impressed" with the 66-year-old former head of Central Command after meeting with him Nov. 19 at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, New Jersey.

"General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday," the president-elect tweeted afterward. "A true General's General!"

Trump also called him the "real deal" and said he was "surprised" when Mattis told him he could get more out of a terrorism suspect's interrogation with afew beers and a pack of cigarettes than he could with waterboarding and torture.

Should he receive and accept a nomination, Mattis, who retired from the military in 2013, will require a congressional waiver to serve in the post. Current rules bar officers from accepting jobs that require Senate confirmation for seven years after retiring.

Mattis has support from many lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has said he's "a great admirer" of the general and noted waivers have been granted in the past. The last person to receive one for the position of defense secretary was retired Army Gen. George Marshall in 1950, according to the Defense Department.

Even if he received the waiver, Mattis could face a stormy Senate confirmation hearing over his views on women in combat, post-traumatic stress, Iran, and other issues.

"I don't care if you go anywhere in history where you would find that this has worked," he has said of putting "healthy young men and women together and we expect them to act like little saints."

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect Trump's official announcement beginning in the first paragraph.

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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