President Donald Trump told Fox News on Tuesday that he was “all set” to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed in 2017, contradicting a previous denial, but said his former secretary of defense prevented it.
The president previously denied that he had ever considered assassinating Assad, after journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book claimed Trump had pushed former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to devise a plan to kill the Syrian president.
Trump told reporters after the book’s publication that “the assassination” of Assad was “never even discussed,” saying, “the book is fiction.”
But on Tuesday, he admitted that the report was true, and he had intended to kill Assad in 2017.
“I would have rather taken him out,” Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday. “I had him all set, Mattis didn’t want to do it.”
He went on to accuse Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who led troops in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as “a terrible general” and “a bad leader.”
Since leaving the Trump administration, Mattis has become a vocal critic of the president’s use of troops, issuing a condemnation last June after Trump had protestors forcefully moved so he could be photographed holding a Bible in front of a church.
“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” Mattis said in a statement to The Atlantic at the time.
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