US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Monday he has “never talked” with President Donald Trump about leaving the administration despite the President’s calling him “sort of a Democrat” who “may leave” his position.
“I’m on his team. We have never talked about me leaving,” Mattis told reporters during a flight to Vietnam to meet with senior Vietnamese officials, according to a Department of Defense transcript. Mattis was responding to Trump’s comments during an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “And as you can see right here, we’re on our way. We just continue doing our job.”
Mattis also dismissed the President’s remark suggesting he had affiliation with the Democratic Party. “I’ve never registered for any political party,” he said.
In his wide-ranging interview with “60 Minutes,” Trump sparked speculation that Mattis’ days may be numbered after saying he was unsure about the defense secretary’s future in the administration. “He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave,” the President said. “That’s Washington.”
Trump added that he and Mattis “get along very well.”
Army Col. Robert Manning, a spokesman for the Pentagon, issued a statement in response to the President’s remarks Sunday.
“Secretary Mattis is laser-focused on doing his job – ensuring the US military remains the most lethal force on the planet,” the statement said.
Trump tapped Mattis to be defense secretary following his victory in the 2016 presidential election. Mattis officially secured the position after Congress passed a waiver allowing him to take the civilian post shortly after he retired from the military.
Mattis was at odds with the Obama administration over its policy toward Iran in his final years as head of Central Command, with the Marine general taking a harder line about pursuing action against Iran than the White House.
CNN reported in June on differences between Trump and Mattis that were leading to friction in the Pentagon and raising the possibility that the defense secretary might eventually leave the administration.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.