Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sidestepped the furor Friday over the new tell-all book on White House infighting that depicts a feud between since-ousted aide Steve Bannon and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser.
Mattis said he had been told that his name pops up several times in the book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," by journalist Michael Wolff. But when asked whether he would read it, he said, "No, I'm a little busy these days."
At an informal session with Pentagon reporters, Mattis joked that he would leave the reading of the book to the "more literate" members of the press corps.
The book depicts President Donald Trump's White House as riven by constant feuds between rival political factions, with former chief White House strategist Bannon as a main character in the backbiting.
In the book, Bannon suggested that a meeting at Trump Tower in New York between Trump's son, Donald Jr., and a Russian lawyer may have been "treasonous."
Mattis' name comes up in the book in the context of Bannon's alleged conniving to get rid of McMaster, a Silver Star veteran of the Gulf War.
Bannon tried to convince Trump to promote McMaster to four-star rank and make him the commander in Afghanistan to get him out of the White House, Wolff wrote.
"Bannon believed McMaster would be out by [last] August. He was sure he had the president's word on this, done deal," Wolff wrote. "In Bannon's scenario, Trump would give McMaster a fourth star and 'promote' him to top military commander in Afghanistan."
Wolff wrote that Bannon boasted: "McMaster wants to send more troops to Afghanistan, so we're going to send him."
Instead, it was Bannon who left the White House. Also in August, Trump approved sending an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan. McMaster is still on the job.
Before leaving, Bannon also clashed with McMaster on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.
It's a matter of record, but the book also notes that Bannon backed a scheme put forward by Erik Prince, founder of the now-defunct Blackwater security firm and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries.
Bannon arranged for Prince to meet Mattis at the Pentagon on a Saturday. At the time, Pentagon officials, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said Mattis listened "politely" to Prince and sent him on his way.
At an earlier session with reporters, Mattis said Bannon failed to make much of an impression on him. He could recall only two meetings on defense issues where Bannon was present and, if Bannon said anything, the defense secretary couldn't remember what it was.
"My responsibility is to the president," Mattis said. Bannon "was at two meetings that I recall, here. … I don't recall him -- I'm almost certain he never said a word in either one of those meetings."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.