The secretary of defense is the latest in a series of officials to issue a broad denial of accounts in an explosive new book on the Trump presidency by legendary journalist Bob Woodward.
The book, "Fear," is set for release later this month, but excerpts obtained by major media outlets today include shocking accounts of staffers filching papers from President Donald Trump's desk out of fear he'd sign them, Trump's lawyers warning the president he'd end up in an orange jumpsuit if he testified in court, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis comparing Trump to a 'fifth- or sixth-grader.'
On Tuesday evening, hours after the initial reports came to light, the Pentagon issued a three-paragraph statement on Mattis' behalf denying the 'contemptuous words' attributed to him in “Fear.”
"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 the statement. " ... 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 did appear, however, to acknowledge he'd pushed back on Trump's ideas in high-level discussions.
Woodward's book reportedly contains a back-and-forth exchange in which Trump asks why the U.S. was spending any resources on the Korean peninsula, including missile-launch detection assets.
"We're doing this in order to prevent World War III," Mattis reportedly responds in the book.
In his statement Tuesday evening, Mattis said he embraced debate and the "open competition of ideas."
"While responsible policy making in the real world is inherently messy, it is also essential that we challenge every assumption to find the best option," he said. " ... In just over a year, these robust discussions and deliberations have yielded significant results, including the near annihilation of the ISIS caliphate, unprecedented burden sharing by our NATO allies, the repatriation of U.S. service member remains from North Korea, and the improved readiness of our armed forces. Our defense policies have also enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress."
Mattis' statement follows a pair of denials from the White House regarding Woodward's book.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps four-star general like Mattis, quoted in released book excerpts calling Trump an "idiot" and saying his White House position was "the worst job I've ever had."
Kelly said in a statement that he had never called Trump an idiot and enjoyed an "incredibly candid and strong" relationship with the president.
"He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS," Kelly said in the statement, using an abbreviation for a profane term. "I'm committed to the President, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration's many successes."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also published a blanket denial, saying the book was full of "fabricated stories."
Woodward, who is most famous for reporting on the Watergate Scandal in the Nixon White House for the Washington Post, has reported on eight U.S. presidents, including Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama.
The 448-page new book reportedly relies on hundreds of hours of taped interviews, on the record and on background, but does not feature an interview with Trump himself. In a taped phone call published by the Washington Post Tuesday, Woodward tells Trump he made every effort to get an interview with the president. Trump maintains he never received the request.
Mattis, who became defense secretary in January 2017 and was the first member of the newly inaugurated Trump's Cabinet, has avoided any public rifts with the president, despite several Trump policy moves, including a ban on transgender service members and the establishment of a Space Force as a separate military branch that appeared to catch the Pentagon off-guard.
"Secretaries of defense don't always get to choose the president they work for," Mattis allegedly told friends on one occasion, according to Woodward's new account.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.