Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James Mattis, doesn’t seem to be pleased with how the President Elect is filling high level positions within the Department of Defense.
Although the Trump transition team, by way of incoming press secretary Sean Spicer, has denied claims that Trump and Mattis are at odds regarding the methodology employed in making defense appointments, multiple news outlets have reported that Mattis threatened to turn down the prestigious SecDef appointment over his disagreements. One source says that incoming Vice President, Mike Pence, had to go to Mattis in order to smooth things over and keep him on the team.
“Great transition at DoD. Reports to contrary completely false and come from sources who do not have any knowledge of our transition efforts.” Tweeted Sean Spicer late last week in response to reports that Mattis and Trump may be on the outs.
With just two weeks remaining before Donald Trump takes office, there are still a number of defense department positions yet to be filled, which could indicate that the disagreement between the two leaders could be posturing, as Mattis wants more influence over those appointed to positions beneath him. Mattis, it has been reported, wants to fill open positions with the best possible candidates for each role, regardless of political affiliation, but the incoming president seems to only be considering those affiliated to the Republican party and willing to support the new president.
Tensions between the storied general and the newly elected President Elect are said to have begun only weeks after Trump’s December 1st announcement that he intended to appoint James Mattis as SECDEF. Mattis learned that Trump has appointed Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to the position of Secretary of the Army through the media rather than first hand, prompting him to reportedly question the nature of his relationship with the incoming president’s team.
“Mattis was furious,” said a source that wished to remain anonymous. “It made him suspicious of the transition team, and things devolved from there.”
Service secretaries serve as localized positions of leadership over each branch of the United States Military, which means it is in Mattis’s best interest to have appointments that value their relationship with their immediate boss, the Secretary of Defense, over independent relationships with the White House. In effect, Mattis doesn’t want his immediate subordinates to have closer ties to his own boss than he does, as it could result in conflicts within the defense department hierarchy.
Much of the tension seems to be born of Mattis’s desire to consider appointing Republicans who refused to support the incoming president, and even some who previously served in roles under the Obama administration. Michele Flournoy, for example, served as undersecretary for policy under President Barack Obama and was widely considered to be a front-runner for the SecDef role had Hillary Clinton won the election. Mattis met with Flourney regarding a role within the Defense Department and even sent her to New York to brief members of the Trump team on her experiences in national defense, as well as potential plans for National Security Council reform, but Trump’s transition team rebuked the idea of offering her an appointment. She went on to withdraw her name from any consideration in mid-December. In response, Mattis has been extremely “picky” regarding the appointments floated to him by Trump’s team.
As the coming weeks unfold and the President Elect takes office, we may see more fireworks coming from within the administration, as strong personalities grapple for control of their own spheres of influence within the federal government. Trump’s incoming press secretary denying the claims that debate is ongoing within the team could be a positive sign, however, indicating that while there may be disagreements within the group, they are not insurmountable.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press