Trump Sends Mattis Out The Door Early

President Trump announced today that James Mattis would be out as Secretary of Defense by the end of the year.

When he resigned as Secretary of Defense late last week, retired General James Mattis stated his intention to stay on the job until February so that there would be sufficient time for the President to select a replacement who could be considered and confirmed by the Senate. Instead, President Trump has decided to push Mattis out by the end of the year and named Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary of Defense:

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Sunday that he would remove Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who issued a stinging rebuke of the president when he announced his resignation last week, from his post by Jan. 1, two months before he had planned to depart.

Mr. Trump, in a Twitter post, said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy, would serve as the acting defense secretary.

Aides said that the president was furious that Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter — in which he rebuked the president’s rejection of international allies and his failure to check authoritarian governments — had led to days of negative news coverage. Mr. Mattis resigned in large part over Mr. Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw American forces from Syria.

When Mr. Trump first announced that Mr. Mattis was leaving, effective Feb. 28, he praised the defense secretary on Twitter, saying he was retiring “with distinction.” One aide said that although Mr. Trump had already seen the resignation letter when he praised Mr. Mattis, the president did not understand just how forceful a rejection of his strategy Mr. Mattis had issued.

The president has grown increasingly angry as the days have passed, the aide said. On Saturday, Mr. Trump posted a tweet that took a jab at Mr. Mattis, saying that “when President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should.”

More from The Washington Post:

President Trump, who aides said has been frustrated by news coverage of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s scathing resignation letter, abruptly announced Sunday that he was removing Mattis two months before his planned departure and installing Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who has been Mattis’s deputy at the Pentagon, will assume the top job on an acting capacity beginning Jan. 1, Trump said.

Mattis resigned in protest last week after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria — a move that Mattis and others on the national security team strongly counseled the president against.

In his Thursday resignation letter, Mattis delivered a sharp rebuke of Trump’s worldview and cast the president’s foreign policy positions as a threat to the nation. Trump has complained to advisers about the brutal media commentary that ensued.

Here are the President’s tweets regarding Mattis and his early departure from last night and this morning:

According to his Wikipedia page, Patrick Shanahan is a former top Boeing Executive who had started with the company in 1986 and risen up the ranks to the point where he became a Senior Vice-President and a member of the Boeing Executive Council. In March of 2017, he was nominated by President Trump for the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense, the second-highest civilian position in the Defense Department. Although he ran into some trouble during his confirmation hearing when the late Senator John McCain objected to his response to questions about arming the Ukrainian government in response to Russian activity in the eastern part of Ukraine, Shanahan was ultimately overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate in July 2017. He does not appear to have served in the military, but that isn’t unusual for Secretaries of Defense in recent years.

In some sense, I suppose this move by Trump is understandable. Mattis’s rebuke of the President in his resignation letter was so strong that it’s hard to see how the two of them could have continued to work together even for just the next two months. Additionally, given the fact that Mattis had stated in that letter that he and President had fundamentally different worldviews, it does strike one as odd that he would be staying on trying to advise the President. While Mattis’s offer to stay in his position until February so that a replacement could be named and confirmed was a generous one under the circumstances, all Presidents are entitled to have the services of people that they think are at least somewhat loyal to them. The tone of Mattis’s letter makes it clear that the relationship between the two men had collapsed to the point where Mattis staying on was simply impractical.

Despite these caveats, one does have to take note of a fact that CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta made Twitter:

What could possibly go wrong?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:
  2. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But for Dennison that’s just gravy.

    Kathy’s Zeroth Law of Politics: No matter how much they excite the base, or you, or how much you hate the person they’re running against, DO NOT VOTE for a f***g moron.

  3. dennis says:

    Boy, no one saw that coming …

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    Did the new acting sec def actually accept the job this time?

  5. DrDaveT says:

    Some inside baseball:

    As Deputy, Shanahan has been in charge of the ongoing massive reorganization of the part of DoD that used to be called “Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics”, but has now been split into two separate organizations*. And all of the other acquisition reform legislation that the remarkably bipartisan House and Senate Armed Services Committees have been cranking out like sausages for the past few years without waiting to see the effect the earlier ones had. That’s why he was hired — to oversee the business process transformation side of the house.

    That’s a full-time job, and then some. Shanahan will now have zero time for that, and no deputy to delegate things to. There is now literally nobody in charge of the reorg, at the crucial moment when allocation of duties and authorities is happening. And Shanahan is now in charge of something he is utterly unprepared for.

    *If you have been having trouble making the transition from R&D to actual fielded systems, clearly the best move is to put R&D and acquisition in totally different organizations, so that the lowest-level manager who can resolve issues is the Deputy Secretary…

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon: He’s probably the one who insisted on having “Acting” in his title.

  7. Slugger says:

    Is there a line on how long Shanahan will last? Shanahan is not that old, but I doubt that a long government career was one of his dreams and his Boeing employment might have left him with a bundle of FYM. In every important position something bad happens sooner or later, and Trump will issue a scornful tweet guaranteed. Actually, if I had a casino I’d establish a betting line on the entire cabinet. Shelly Adelson, are you listening?

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I wonder how much Trump is listening to Adelson. The Syria thing is a kick in Netanhayu’s balls, leaving Israel effectively sharing a border with a Russia-armed Iran.

  9. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I doubt Israel even crossed what passes for Trump’s mind. All his focus was on catering to Putin, who’s very pleased with his puppet.

  10. CSK says:

    I also doubt that it occurred to Trump that his little vengeance trip here is going to make him look even more ludicrous than he already does, and Mattis even more principled.

  11. Gustopher says:

    Does Mattis get paid for a traditional two week notice period? Walking someone out the door once they’ve given notice is generally rude, and there may be protections against that at the state or local level.

    I know he gave two months notice, but it would be absurd to say that he has to be paid for the entire time, or the next cabinet official could give two year’s notice on his first day, and then call the President bad names, and enjoy two years paid vacation.

  12. Gustopher says:

    What could possibly go wrong?

    We are entering a new phase of the Trump Presidency, where he seems to have realized that he has gotten nothing done, and decided that this is entirely the fault of the people around him not executing on his vision.

    He is threatening to fire his Fed chief over interest rates.
    He is suddenly pulling out of Syria
    He has fired his Chief Of Staff.
    He has fired his AG
    He has started a government shutdown over his wall
    He is demanding McConnell get rid of the filibuster.

    This is a man who is lashing out at having been boxed in. He is blaming the people he hired (and, to be fair, they aren’t the best and the brightest, they are rapists and murderers and presumably a few good people too), when the real issue is that he is a president, not a dictator, and the job is quite limited.

    He had more authority over Trump Inc. than he does over the government, and I don’t think he has quite realized this yet.

    Hmm. This might be a fine time to pull all my money from the market and hide in a bunker. (I’ve been putting that off for two years, waiting to see how things went…)

  13. Jen says:

    @Michael Reynolds: In his feeble little mind, he handed Israel a BIG WIN moving the embassy. My guess is that he thinks that was such a big deal, it will permanently have him in Netanhayu’s good graces. He really doesn’t understand geopolitics.

    At all.

  14. Hal_10000 says:

    I agree with the analysis that the thing that tripped this was the praise for Mattis. Remember the McCain funeral? Nothing pisses off Trump or The Trumpions more than hearing someone praised for their honor, integrity and patriotism. They regard as a backhanded slap, even if Trump himself is never mentioned. I think Trump expected to come out on top here. Hearing everyone lament Mattis leaving just drove him crazy. Because it was a constant reminder that Mattis is everything he’s not.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    I can envision a lot of bad things happening as the oft repeated Trump sh*t show reaches this stage, where he is driving out anyone that knows what they are doing and he replaces them with morons. Or himself. But I repeat myself.

    In the spirit of the coming new year though, im going to lead with some hope. Congress could collectively decide to jettison the extremists, especially the tea partiers, and start assembling veto proof majorities. It would result in a very boring form of government, one that hasn’t existed since Gingrich. And that would be wonderful.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:


    and presumably a few good people too)

    You are giving them way too much credit. I would have gone only as far as, “people who sold their legs, arms, MeeMaws and first born male children, but stopped short of selling their souls.”

  17. Liberal Capitalist says:

    He’s the Anti-Oprah… You get fired!!!

    And YOU get fired!!! And YOU AND YOU AND YOU get fired !!!

    Mattis: … Wait, what? But I quit!??!

    Trump: The Hell you did, I fired you!

    Trump: They think they can quit… I know exactly what he’d tell you, lies. Mattis was no different from any other employee in the White House; they were all disloyal. I tried to run the country properly, the way my father taught me to run a business, but they fought me at every turn. The staff wanted to walk around with their own opinions, that’s all right, let them. Take collusion: fake news, no more, no less. But they encouraged the reporters to go around scoffing at me, and spreading wild rumors about Moscow Trump Towers, condo sales and the hookers and some old yellow stains. Suddenly, I was to blame for Obama’s incompetence and poor leadership. Yeah, sure Clinton was the perfect candidate, but not Trump. Ah, but the Electoral College, that’s… that’s where I had them, they laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with geometric logic, that the inauguration crowd was larger, and I’ve had produced pictures if they only had taken them from the right angles. I, I know now they were only trying to protect Ivanka’s spending. … Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory. If I left anything out, why, just ask me specific questions and I’ll be glad to answer them, one by one.

    Muller: We will, Mr. Trump, we will.

  18. Kathy says:


    Hearing everyone lament Mattis leaving just drove him crazy.

    If Dennison wants praise from the mainstream media, and he does, all he has to do is resign.

  19. Kathy says:


    [..]when the real issue is that he is a president, not a dictator, and the job is quite limited.

    Years ago Freakonomics Radio Podcast ran an ep asking how much power is there in the presidency. They argued it was incredibly limited.

    There was a counter episode arguing the contrary, but it focused heavily on foreign affairs.

  20. dennis says:


    Because it was a constant reminder that Mattis is everything he’s not.

    Agreed. And this from the AP:

    Earlier Sunday, Trump’s acting chief of staff said that Trump had known for “quite some time now” that he and Mattis “did not share some of the same philosophies … have the same world view.”

    Quite some time now? More like from the beginning. Because anyone who has spent his/her life in honorable service to something greater than himself/herself will have a world view 180° opposite from this … president.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    presumably a few good people too

    At this point, I’m not willing to presume anything about this administration anymore beyond being dysfunctional, but if by “good” you mean “innocuously non-repulsive/evil,” I can chalk the comment up to you being a better, more hopeful person than I am.

    ETA: “Congress could collectively decide to jettison the extremists”
    As much as I would like to believe this can happen, those extremists are the duly elected representatives of extremists in their Congressional districts, and can’t simply be “jettisoned.”

  22. EddieInCA says:


    Hmm. This might be a fine time to pull all my money from the market and hide in a bunker. (I’ve been putting that off for two years, waiting to see how things went…)

    From the link – my comment of a few weeks ago….

    I’ll wait until it gets below 23,500 to jump back in, slowly. But if it doesn’t hold the 23,500 support from March 2018, there is nothing keeping the market from sliding all the way down to right around 16,000, which was a triple bottom in 2015/2016. That should be a firm price point to really jump back in big time.

    I will watch very carefully to see what kind of volume gets traded when the market opens again. 22.500 was a strong support. The market closed almost right at the number, but was headed down at the close. If it breaks 22,500 hard to the downside there is nothing to stop it until 16,000. That’s another full 30%.

    Watch your IRA’s, 401K’s, and retirement funds. It could get very ugly.

  23. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: yeah the dimwitted deep South county I live in only voted 71% for Trump because it’s 27% black. Show me the thoughtful, moderate Republican candidate who can win this district and I’ll laugh.

  24. MarkedMan says:
  25. rachel says:



    At a loss for words?

  26. Teve says:

    Apparently the cowardly Cheeto didn’t have the guts to fire mattis to his face, so he had pompeo do it.

  27. Barry DeCicco says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: “… but stopped short of selling their souls.”

    At this point none of the top two or three levels still have their souls. Trump didn’t get them, however – they sold them long ago. Trump is Satan’s way of screwing them over on the deal.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    As much as I would like to believe this can happen, those extremists are the duly elected representatives of extremists in their Congressional districts, and can’t simply be “jettisoned.”

    Actually, they do have the power to remove elected members. Article 1, sec. 5:

    Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.

    So they could do it. Not that it would be wise, or not result in a hot mess, or possibly even violence, but technically they could remove the most radical 1/3 of the House. Fortunately, most Congress critters aren’t that stupid.

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Barry DeCicco:

    Trump is Satan’s way of screwing them over on the deal.


  30. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA: (OK, let’s try this again). I’ve been mostly in cash and inflation protected equivalents since mid to late 2017. There was a few times when I saw the market heading up and up that I questioned that a bit, but never very seriously. I am not a knowledgable investor by any means, but I’ve learned a few general life lessons and one applies here: Never bet on stupid. Since Trump is a living embodiment of the Dunning Krueger effect, I got out when I judged the Obama momentum was done.

    That was what I was trying to write yesterday when the combination of moving vehicle and iPad caused a premature erasure, but in the meantime I see that another one of my very few life lessons has risen to the top. This one I learned while contemplating becoming a parent. I realized that although a really bad parent could screw up their kid to serial-killer levels, once you got past mediocre you don’t have nearly as much effect as you would like to believe. How does this apply to the markets? Well, Presidents for the most part don’t effect the market in a dramatic way. They can help it along a bit, and maybe some policies can make the good times last a bit longer, but they can’t turn a down economy into an up one by waving a magic wand. However, like a really, really bad parent, they can totally mess up an economy. Steve Mnuchin’s bizarre behavior and subsequent 600 point Dow drop (as of this writing) is living proof that you shouldn’t bet on stupid. Mnuchin did the equivalent of suddenly making an announcement at his party that he had personally checked and none of the food was poisoned and, even it had been, he is absolutely confident the antidote would work. Now get back to the buffet table and enjoy yourself.

  31. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: a friend of mine joked on Facebook, this is the Trump administration, so we should probably check and see if mnuchin shorted the Dow last Friday.