In his first official message, Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave a shout out to the intelligence community as a crucial partner to the Pentagon in safeguarding the nation, breaking from President Donald Trump’s more heavy-handed approach.
“It’s good to be back and I’m grateful to serve alongside you as Secretary of Defense,” Mattis said, moments after being sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.
His final confirmation easily sailed through the Senate by a 98-1 vote after Trump signed Mattis’s waiver legislation. That legislation enabled him to serve, despite only leaving the Marine Corps in 2013 after a 44-year military career. Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the one “no” vote. She’s repeatedly cited the importance of upholding the tradition of civilian control over the military as the reason for her decision not to support the waiver.
“Together with the Intelligence Community we are the sentinels and guardians of our nation,” Mattis continued. “We need only look to you, the uniformed and civilian members of the Department and your families, to see the fundamental unity of our country. You represent an America committed to the common good; an America that is never complacent about defending its freedoms; and an America that remains a steady beacon of hope for all mankind.”
Mattis’s statement represents a much more conciliatory approach the intelligence community than the sort embraced by Trump. It also deepens the divide between Trump and Mattis that already exists based on deep-seated policy disagreements over the use of torture, Israel, Russia, NATO, Iran, climate change and staffing the Pentagon.
Trump does, however, plan to visit CIA headquarters Saturday in Virginia.
His relationship with the agency has been incredibly rocky, especially over the last several weeks, as he has suspicions that the intelligence community has been leaking to the press. He even went so far as to question whether now-former CIA Director John Brennan leaked unverified allegations of Trump’s scandalous activities in Russia to the media. Brennan stringently denied any involvement, whatsoever.
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