The Current

Trump's former defence secretary says whistleblower probe just a 'raucous' period for U.S. democracy

Former U.S. defence secretary James Mattis says the whistleblower scandal threatening U.S. President Donald Trump with impeachment is just the "normal heave and ho of democracies."

Mattis predicts 'rough sledding ahead for everyone involved'

Former U.S. secretary of defence James Mattis has written a new book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, which focuses on his career as a marine and a war-time commander. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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Former U.S. defence secretary James Mattis says the whistleblower complaint threatening U.S. President Donald Trump with impeachment is the "normal heave and ho of democracies."

"Democracies go through raucous periods and you see some of that going on right now — and by the way, you see it going on in Germany and France and the United Kingdom especially, and certainly very much so here in Washington, D.C., right now," said Mattis, who served as Trump's secretary of defence from January 2017 to December 2018, but resigned over a series of policy disagreements with the president.

Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry over a whistleblower allegation that he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look for damaging information on rival Democrat Joe Biden. Trump has denied he exerted "any pressure," but has been accused by Democrats of trying to bolster his own re-election bid.

While Mattis acknowledges the impeachment inquiry is "historically significant," he says whistleblowing is a normal part of how power is practised.

"In the Pentagon, a whistleblower complaint can actually be a large part of creating change, and of disciplining internally the organization," he told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

Mattis resigned as U.S. President Donald Trump's secretary of defence over a series of policy disagreements. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Mattis has written a new book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, which focuses not on his time in the Pentagon, but his career as a marine and a wartime commander. He has faced criticism for not speaking out about the Trump administration.

But Mattis says it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the current probe, adding his position "is not unique to me in these very, very, I think, passionate times right now."

"This is a long-standing tradition at the Department of Defence — and of our military — that we don't do politics," he said.

"I prefer to continue that tradition, even as it frustrates those of you who want everyone to speak out right now."

He said that those in power should be trusted to lead without outside interference.

"The last thing I think you need to do at that point is … have the troops looking over their shoulder at the former secretary of defence, when I'm no longer responsible for the foreign policy."

I have a lot of confidence in the hardiness of our Constitution- James Mattis

Asked if he would speak up if he believed Trump was "a danger to U.S. national security," he replied, "I absolutely would."

"I have a lot of confidence in the hardiness of our Constitution, and in the long-term wisdom of the American people and the choices they make," he said.

"We're just going to have to see how it plays out. I would just say there's rough sledding ahead for everyone involved."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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