James Mattis woos John Bolton with breakfast club invite

Defense Secretary James Mattis is keenly aware of John Bolton's rapid ascension within the White House and is making ...

Posted: Apr 29, 2018 10:19 AM
Updated: Apr 29, 2018 10:19 AM

Defense Secretary James Mattis is keenly aware of John Bolton's rapid ascension within the White House and is making a concerted effort to make nice with President Donald Trump's new national security adviser amid a shifting power dynamic at the highest levels of the administration.

Mattis invited Bolton to the Pentagon for breakfast on Wednesday as part of his push to establish a cooperative working relationship that mirrors the dynamic he once had with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which the two men often met privately and worked out their positions before presenting a unified position to the President, two defense officials told CNN.

Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told reporters that Wednesday's breakfast was likely the beginning of a regular series of meetings that could eventually include newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Prior to Tillerson's ouster, he, Mattis and Pompeo would typically meet for breakfast or lunch once a week to informally discuss major national security issues facing the administration.

One of Trump's most trusted advisers, Mattis has clearly wielded significant influence since joining the administration, but he lost a particularly consistent ally when Tillerson was unceremoniously fired last month.

Like Mattis, Tillerson argued against leaving the Iran nuclear deal and consistently stressed the importance of prioritizing a diplomatic resolution to tensions with North Korea, a source close to the White House previously told CNN.

But while Mattis has been able to navigate the complex political minefield within an unpredictable Trump administration in a way that avoids drawing the President's ire, sources close to the White House have told CNN that the same could not be said for Tillerson, whose firing was due in part to the fact it had become clear he was not on the same page as Trump and wanted to handle foreign policy his own way.

The addition of Bolton and Pompeo represents a dramatic overhaul atop the administration's national security team that many argue leaves Mattis more isolated than ever, as both men were selected due to their strong personal relationships with the President and on the premise that they fundamentally align with Trump's own way of thinking.

And while Mattis hopes to reconstruct the dynamic he had with Tillerson by informally meeting with Bolton and Pompeo on a regular basis, early indications are it is unlikely that they will defer to the Defense secretary in the same way Tillerson once did -- setting the stage for a potential clash over key issues like North Korea and Iran.

One source close to the White House told CNN that going forward, any potential conflict is likely to stem from the fact that the power dynamic is no longer heavily weighted in Mattis' favor, and situations will likely arise in which he will be forced to "share the porch" with other strong personalities whose views may conflict with his own.

Several defense and administration officials also told CNN that Trump appears frustrated with the narrative that he has to rely on generals for advice.

However, the President does understand Mattis is a popular figure and that it would be difficult to find an acceptable reason to replace him, the officials said.

The Pentagon has stressed that Mattis believes he and Bolton can collaborate effectively.

"John Bolton is an American. And he can work with him," White said this week when asked about Mattis' relationship with the new national security adviser.

Primed for conflict?

While the two men met for the first time in the days following Trump's decision to hire Bolton, a source close to the White House previously told CNN that Mattis opposed naming him to replace ousted national security adviser H.R. McMaster and pushed for other candidates he viewed as more malleable to his own views.

Mattis has done his best to downplay notions that he is concerned about working with Bolton -- previously saying that he looked forward to working with the former UN ambassador and that he hoped the two men held "different world views" to avoid "group think."

During their first interaction at the Pentagon last month Mattis even joked about speculation of a possible conflict, telling Bolton that he had heard that he was "actually the devil incarnate."

But despite Mattis' public optimism, he is aware of the fact that Bolton has wasted no time flexing his new-found authority in the West Wing -- internal posturing that has created waves among some senior administration officials, a source told CNN.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the hierarchy have told CNN that Bolton has been given wide leeway to hire who he likes and dismiss those he doesn't -- often bypassing chief of staff John Kelly and reporting directly to Trump.

Several top officials at the National Security Council have already resigned under pressure, been fired or decided to leave during Bolton's short tenure at the White House. But it was Bolton's decision to push out homeland security adviser Tom Bossert -- much to the surprise of Kelly -- that sent ripples through the administration.

According to a source close to the White House, Kelly was fuming after he learned of Bossert's firing and told Bolton to run any future staffing moves through the appropriate channels for approval.

But despite Kelly's warning, Bolton went on to fire two other NSC officials -- Ricky Waddell and Nadia Schadlow -- without looping in the chief of staff -- making it clear that he answers directly to Trump, the source said.

Part of Bolton's animosity toward Kelly stems from Kelly's opposition to hiring Bolton as national security adviser, the source added -- a conflict that could fuel possible resentment toward Mattis in the future.

The White House has cited Bolton's desire -- and right -- to build his own team but the decision to tap Mira Ricardel as his new deputy also sets the stage for potential tension with Mattis.

A well-known Republican hawk who worked on the Trump transition team, Ricardel clashed with Mattis following the election, several sources told CNN.

At the time, Ricardel pressed for a number of individuals to be nominated to key Defense Department positions, but Mattis rejected them in favor of personnel he preferred, sources said.

Early signs of tension

Early indications that tension may be brewing between Mattis and Bolton were on display earlier this month as Trump mulled options for a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus.

After days of deliberations, Trump ultimately announced that the US had carried out the muscular strike that he had demanded and said that he was "prepared to sustain" a coordinated campaign of strikes on Syrian targets "until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."

But what actually transpired in Syria seemed closer to the careful strategy advocated by Mattis and his military brass.

During a meeting with top military officials prior to the strikes, Trump grew upset at the options being presented, according to people familiar with the conversations. He insisted he wanted to go further than the limited strikes he ordered last year, which did little to prevent the Assad regime from allegedly attacking civilians again with deadly chemicals.

Trump's views were bolstered by Bolton and US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who argued that any action should go beyond the limited set of strikes Trump ordered from Mar-a-Lago last April, a senior administration official said.

A source close to the White House told CNN that tensions were high between Mattis and Bolton during the weeklong discussions over the best course of action.

Like Trump, Bolton advocated for stronger military response while Mattis pushed back and ultimately won the argument with the approach that was agreed upon.

However, another source with knowledge of the discussions downplayed reports that the disagreement was an indication of a larger rift between the newly minted national security adviser and Defense Secretary -- adding that while deliberations did pit Mattis against Bolton, the conflict was largely seen as the process working the way it should.

The Pentagon said that Trump expects Mattis and Bolton to bring a range of options to the table -- even if they disagree with one another over the best course of action.

"What I see is a very comprehensive review of decisions. ... The President brings together people from different perspectives, and he challenges them," White told reporters at the Pentagon this week.

"This department provides options ... but at the end of the day, it's the President of the United States that decides," White added.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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