In Mattis Aide's Tell-All, NPR Finds Mattis Digging In and Fighting for Obama's Legacy

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NPR's David Welna offered an online book review on Tuesday on the new "tell-all" book by Guy Snodgrass, a speechwriter for former Defense Secretary James Mattis. Welna highlighted several examples of Mattis digging in to defend Obama's legacy and getting frustrated that President Trump kept overturning Obama. 

1. The Paris climate accords:

In a chapter titled "Trumped," Snodgrass portrays Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as "alarmed" as they scrambled to put together Trump's first Pentagon briefing in July 2017. Trump had recently announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on curbing climate change, a move Snodgrass says "was viewed by staff members in Mattis' office primarily as a way to dismantle yet another piece of President Obama's legacy."

Mattis had been getting a string of phone calls from allies startled by the Paris accord pullout, and he and Tillerson both saw the Pentagon briefing as an opportunity to sway Trump.

2. The transgender ban in the military:

In another chapter titled "Policy by Tweet," Snodgrass describes Trump tweeting, without notifying the Pentagon, that "after consultation with my Generals and military experts," he was banning transgender people from serving in the military. A month earlier, Mattis had ordered a six-month study of the issue to delay any action on the Obama-era initiative of allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military.

Mattis was back in his Richland, Wash., hometown when Trump blindsided the Pentagon with his August 2017 transgender ban tweet; upon returning, Snodgrass writes, the defense secretary portrayed the Trump administration as doing a number on itself. "He formed his right hand into a make-believe pistol and pointed it towards his temple, saying 'No one move or the hostage gets it!' "

3. Obama's Iran nuclear deal:  

What was perhaps Mattis' most public act of defiance toward Trump is described as at an October 2017 Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, a legacy of the Obama administration. The Pentagon chief, asked if he thought remaining in the deal was in the interest of national security, paused a few dramatic seconds before replying, "Yes, senator, I do."

It was an open break with Trump's vow to dump the deal. "Mattis had confided to me before the hearing that he worried about leaving the agreement under false pretenses," Snodgrass writes, adding, "When America gives her word, she should keep it."

After all this evidence of Mattis trying to save the Obama legacy, one might understand Mattis would find some favorable treatment from the liberal media. Snodgrass notes they gave Mattis a pass  "when matters arose that might have cut his tenure short at the Pentagon. A case in point was Mattis' having remained on the board of directors of the fraudulent blood-testing firm Theranos until shortly before being sworn in as defense secretary." 

Snodgrass thinks he knows why. "No one wanted to risk taking down Mattis," he concludes about the scant coverage of Mattis' ties to Theranos. Curious why Pentagon reporters did not press Mattis about an unflattering NBC report by Courtney Kube that described Mattis being shut out by the Trump White House, Snodgrass (who calls Kube's article "deadly accurate") asks Wall Street Journal Pentagon reporter Gordon Lubold for an explanation.

"Look, at the end of the day we're all Americans," Snodgrass quotes Lubold as replying. "If Mattis goes, who's left? There are things we wish were different [in their relationship with Mattis] but he's defending the nation in more ways than one. We all know that."

On this point, Welna went to the reporter to confirm or deny saying he pulled punches for the Obama-defender, which underlined just where the liberal media draw the line on "tell-all" memoirs! 

Lubold tells NPR that he did discuss his colleagues' coverage of Mattis with Snodgrass but dismisses the quote attributed to him as "fiction." According to an emailed statement from a Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal spokesperson, "The comments attributed to Gordon Lubold are grossly mischaracterized. They do not reflect the scope, context or tenor of an off-the-record conversation with Mr. Snodgrass."

That's the rub with a tell-all exposé like the one Snodgrass has authored: The accuracy and veracity of many of his quotes are difficult, if not impossible, to check.

NPR David Welna James Mattis
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