President Donald Trump expressed full confidence in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Wednesday and said he would remain on the job, despite a report that the White House was already lining up potential replacements.
"Yeah, he'll stay," Trump said of Mattis at an impromptu session with White House reporters, according to a White House pool report. "We're very happy with him. I think he's a terrific person. He's doing a fantastic job as Secretary."
Trump's remarks followed a Washington Post opinion column by Josh Rogin suggesting that derogatory quotes about Trump attributed to Mattis in the new book "Fear" by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward had triggered discussions in the White House on who might replace the retired four-star Marine general.
The possible replacements mentioned included retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri. Both had been considered to be on Trump's short list for the top Pentagon job before he settled on Mattis prior to the inauguration in January 2017.
In the Woodward book, Mattis allegedly said that Trump had the understanding of world and national security affairs of a "fifth or sixth-grader."
In a statement Tuesday, Mattis denied ever making the remark.
"While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility," Mattis said of Woodward's book.
"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 added.
At the White House, according to the pool report, Trump said he had questioned Mattis on the veracity of the quote in the Woodward book.
"I asked him whether or not this was true," Trump said, "and he said 'not only is it not true, I'd like to write a statement.' And I said 'Thank you very much, that's very kind.' He wrote the most beautiful statement."
With Mattis at the Defense Department, "we're having a lot of victories," Trump said. "We're having victories that people don't even know about, and he's highly respected all over the world. And I did appreciate his statement. He didn't have to write that statement. But I did appreciate it."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.