Trump Never Called for Syrian President's Assassination, Pentagon Says

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Yahoo News in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (SANA via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Yahoo News in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (SANA via AP)

The Pentagon doubled down Monday on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' denials that he ever ignored demands from President Donald Trump or mocked the commander-in-chief's grasp of military issues.

Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, also said that a particular conversation cited in Bob Woodward's new book "Fear: Trump in the White House" on Trump's alleged demand to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad never happened.

Manning also told defense reporters at the Pentagon Monday that Woodward, the acclaimed veteran journalist of the Washington Post, never gave Mattis or the Pentagon a heads-up on what he was about to publish to seek comment.

The denials from the Pentagon followed Woodward's appearance on NBC's Today Show Monday in which he said that Mattis, a retired Marine general, and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, were "not telling the truth" in rejecting how they were quoted in the book.

"These are political statements to protect their jobs -- totally understandable," Woodward said. He said his book "is as carefully done as you can do an excavation of the reality of what goes on."

Kelly last week also denied quotes attributed to him in the book in which he allegedly said that Trump was "unhinged" and "an idiot" whose administration had turned into "Crazytown."

In a series of Tweets Monday, the president continued to lash out at Woodward personally and his book's portrayal of Trump as a foul-mouthed and bumbling egotist.

"The Woodward book is a scam," Trump said. "I don't talk the way I am quoted. If I did, I would not have been elected president. These quotes were made up."

"General Mattis, General Kelly said it's not true," Trump continued. "Bob Woodward is a liar who is like a Dem operative prior to the Midterms."

In the book, Woodward cited an alleged phone conversation between Trump and Mattis in which Trump went into an expletive-laden rant against Assad and told Mattis to have him killed. Mattis then allegedly turned to an aide and said he would ignore Trump's demand.

At the Pentagon, Manning was asked whether the phone conversation on Syria ever took place. Manning said it had not.

"To my knowledge, that is correct," he said.

In another part of the book, Mattis allegedly said that Trump had the understanding of a "fifth- or sixth-grader" of the situation on the Korean peninsula.

In a statement last week, Mattis called the book "fiction" and said that "the contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence."

"The Secretary did not make those comments," Manning said, "so he's not going to own those words."

Manning also said that Mattis has no plans to leave his post. Mattis was not "focused on anything other" than continuing to serve with the men and women of the military, Manning said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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