President-elect Donald Trump welcomes retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis as they pose for a photo before their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, November 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.
The two men met for a little over an hour in Bedminster, New Jersey, Saturday afternoon, which the source characterized as a very important meeting.
The source cautioned that 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 Trump 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.”
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 Fallujah in Iraq — one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
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 U.S. 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 Mattis’s career, likely would 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 advisor, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA chief and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
Earlier Saturday, Trump met with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The two former rivals discussed foreign affairs amid speculation Romney could be a candidate for secretary of state.