WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he has no issues with the media, despite his boss’ condemnation that the “fake news media” is “the enemy of the American people.”
The Pentagon chief says he’s had some contentious times with members of the media, but adds the press is a constituency he deals with.
He also rebuffed suggestions that disarray at the White House is affecting the military. His comments came days after the White House national security adviser was forced to resign.
Mattis says at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates that at times democracy is “quite sporting.” But he says the military’s job is to hold the line while the government sorts out the way ahead.
Says Mattis: “We don’t have any disarray inside the military, and that’s where my responsibility lies.”
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Mr. Trump is behaving like a “tin-pot dictator” by making comments criticizing the news media.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California described Mr. Trump’s tweet last week as “the most devastating” and “the most alarming” in attacking the First Amendment right to a free press.
Schiff said he agrees with Republican Sen. John McCain, who said a free press is vital “to preserve democracy as we know it.” Schiff says the country is confronting a “new war of ideas” - authoritarianism vs. democracy.
The reactions to Mr. Trump’s comments come as Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, advised Americans to take Mr. Trump’s attacks on the media “seriously.”
“There’s been a debate about when to take the president seriously,” CBS’ John Dickerson said in a “Face the Nation” interview with Priebus Saturday. “He recently tweeted that the press was the enemy of the American people. Should we take that seriously from him?”
“Well, I think you should take it seriously,” Priebus replied. “I think that the problem we’ve got is that we’re talking about bogus stories like the one in the New York Times, that we’ve had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, the Wall Street Journal had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing. Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown, and it’s total garbage.”
Sources told CBS News there is a “chill” in the flow of intelligence to the White House, both because of comments from the president about the intelligence community and anxiety over the handling of sensitive information about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Separately, Mattis said he plans to make some decisions soon on whether to recommend an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and whether the totals should be based on military requirements rather than pre-set limits.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he spoke for several hours by video conference on Sunday with U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander there. Mattis said he will collect his thoughts and then send recommendations to the White House where, he said, President Donald Trump is open to his advice.
Earlier this month, Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he needs a few thousand more troops to train and advise Afghan forces.
At the time, Nicholson didn’t provide an exact number, but argued for greater flexibility in setting U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan, where the war is entering its 16th year. Defense and military leaders would prefer a troop level based on military requirements, rather than on a specific, predetermined number.
“The president has been rightfully reticent on it because he’s waiting for my assessment and the assessment from the intelligence community,” Mattis said during a press conference. “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ve got to integrate a fair number of issues to give a good recommendation for the way ahead.”
The Pentagon chief was scheduled to fly into Afghanistan to meet with commanders and leaders on Sunday, but he said bad weather prevented the trip.