WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said he had never spoken to President Donald Trump about leaving his position and was continuing to do his job, a day after Trump derided him as "sort of a Democrat" in an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes" and said "it could be" that the Pentagon chief is leaving his post.
Mattis, who was speaking to reporters en route to Vietnam, said he had never registered for any political party, having joined the military when he was 18 years old and adhered to its apolitical underpinnings as Republicans and Democrats alike came and went as commander in chief.
"Where am I today? I'm a member of the president's administration. And you have seen President Donald Trump's military policies, security policies, reaping significant bipartisan support," the 68-year-old retired Marine Corps general said, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.
"When you think 83 per cent of the U.S. Congress voting the same way on an issue put forward by the Republican president, you can see that my portfolio is bipartisan by its very basis, and that is the protection of the United States," Mattis added.
Mattis said he had not spoken to Trump about the comments on "60 Minutes" and didn't watch the interview.
"We continue in the Department of Defence to do our job," he said. "It's no problem."
“He said, ‘I’m 100 percent with you’,” Mattis said.
Questions about Mattis' future in the administration have arisen pointedly in recent weeks, particularly after journalist Bob Woodward released a book claiming that the defence secretary had said the president had the understanding of a fifth- or sixth-grader. Mattis denied making the comments and dismissed Woodward's reporting as fiction.
Though talk of Mattis' departure had settled down, Nikki Haley's resignation as the ambassador to the United Nations reignited the speculation, which Trump fuelled further in his interview over the weekend.
"I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth," Trump said.
"But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington."
Mattis has also split with the president on key policy issues. He advocated for an extended presence in Afghanistan, pushed to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal and argued against the cancellation of certain military exercises with South Korea as part of nuclear talks with Pyongyang.
The defence secretary declined to detail his thoughts about Saudi Arabia's alleged killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and said he would wait until Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's return from Riyadh.
"I need to have the facts first. I know it's unusual at times in government circles. Some people talk quickly," Mattis said. "I think the secretary of state will be airborne shortly. And we will know more when he gets back. And that'll be very, very soon. So I want to wait until I have facts before I start talking, because facts will determine where I stand."
Mattis said the fact that Pompeo, the most senior Cabinet official in the United States, was going to the region as a result gave "an idea of the priority the president has placed on getting the facts."