President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday stood by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s searing rebuke of the president’s handling of the nationwide unrest and fact-checked Trump’s “nasty” claim that he fired Mattis.
“The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is an honorable man.”
Mattis ― a retired Marine general who cited differences in views with Trump when he resigned as defense secretary in 2018 ― on Wednesday made a statement condemning Trump’s divisive and inflammatory actions as the nation is rocked by protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the cases of many other Black victims of police violence. He is one of several former military leaders to speak out following Trump’s stunning declaration on Monday that he would deploy military troops to respond to the nationwide protests.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic.
He put the nationwide crisis down as “the consequences of three years without mature leadership” and Trump’s “deliberate effort” to divide people, and he urged that Americans “reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”
Trump responded with a Twitter outburst, declaring Mattis to be “the world’s most overrated General” and claiming, “I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it.”
Though Wednesday’s rebuke marks the first time Mattis has made a public denunciation of the president, tensions between Kelly and Trump were widely reported during his time as chief of staff. Kelly, also a retired Marine Corps general, has broken with Trump on several issues since leaving the administration and faced the president’s wrath earlier this year when he spoke out about impeachment.
Trump responded to Kelly’s defense of Mattis with a pair of sour tweets Thursday evening, blasting him as being “totally exhausted” in his former role and now wanting to “come back for a piece of the limelight.”