President-elect Donald Trump is interested in the idea of having retired Marine Gen. James Mattis serve in his administration, and he can be considered a leading candidate for secretary of defense, an official familiar with the transition process told CNN on Saturday.
The two men met for a little over an hour Saturday afternoon in Bedminster, New Jersey. The source characterized it as an important meeting.
The source cautioned it’s not a done deal but said Trump has been extremely impressed with Mattis’ resume and what he’s heard about him from others and at this stage is leaning in that direction.
Asked by reporters if he would choose Mattis to lead the Defense Department, Trump said, “All I can say is he is the real deal. He is the real deal.”
On Sunday morning, the President-elect tweeted that Mattis “was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”
In Mattis, Trump has a candidate who was held in high regard throughout the ranks of the Marine Corps during his 44 years of service. A seasoned combat commander, he led a task force into southern Afghanistan in 2001 and a Marine division at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The retired four-star general, who was known as “Mad Dog,” was lauded for his leadership of Marines in the 2004 Battle of Falluja in Iraq — one of the bloodiest of the war.
But he attracted controversy in 2005 when he said “it’s fun to shoot some people” while addressing service members in San Diego.
He also served as a commander of a major NATO strategic command, Allied Command Transformation, in Norfolk, Virginia.
Mattis, known as a plain-spoken leader well-liked by his Marines, was later promoted to run US Central Command in 2010 — a post that gave him command responsibility for all US forces in the Middle East. He also was an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal.
But should Trump decide to choose Mattis for the Pentagon, his 2013 retirement would create at least one hurdle: A retired officer is required to be out of uniform for at least seven years before taking control of the sprawling Pentagon responsibilities.
Mattis would require a waiver from Congress to be eligible for the position — something that, with Republicans in control on Capitol Hill and the general praise for the general’s career, would likely be a formality to obtain.
The President-elect on Friday announced three picks to lead his national security team: retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, US Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas for CIA chief and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general.
Earlier Saturday, Trump met with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who was a harsh critic of the presidential candidate during the campaign. The two former rivals discussed foreign affairs amid speculation that Romney could be a candidate for secretary of state.