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Trump was 'like a squirrel caught in traffic' during his 1st Pentagon meeting, top Mattis aide recounts

Peter Weber

In the middle of President Trump's first full briefing at the Defense Department, he interrupted to demand a grand "Victory Day" parade with "vehicles and tanks on Main Street" and down Pennsylvania Avenue, like the "amazing" parade he'd just witnessed in France, Guy Snodgrass, a top aide to former Defense Secretary James Mattis recounts in a new book, Holding the Lineexcerpted Monday in Politico Magazine. "The Fourth of July is too hot," Trump added. Snodgrass was watching the scene unfold incredulously from a control room.

Mattis had already given his meticulously prepared briefing on the U.S. global military and diplomatic presence, as had then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mattis and other Pentagon officials tried to talk Trump out of the parade idea, which they vehemently opposed, but as the meeting ground on, Mattis started looking defeated and Tillerson stopped talking and scowled, Snodgrass writes, adding:

Many times during Tillerson's tenure, reporters would claim that he thought his boss was an idiot — and each time Tillerson would deny it publicly. But there was no doubt among most observers in the room that day that Tillerson was thinking exactly that. Both men — Mattis and Tillerson — were despondent. We had just witnessed a meeting with Trump, up close and personal.

Now we knew why access was controlled so tightly. For the remainder of the meeting, Trump veered from topic to topic — Syria, Mexico, a recent Washington Post story he didn't like — like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another. [Guy Snodgrass, in Politico Magazine]

"Mattis did not think Trump was a raving lunatic, as some were trying to portray the president," Snodgrass adds, and he'd made a point of saying Trump's "tremendous political skills" and "sharp intuition" were qualities that "deserved respect." After Mattis quit, Trump finally got a scaled-down version of his military parade last July 4. Last week, Trump belittled Mattis at a White House meeting and a few days later, Mattis roasted him back, mocking Trump's draft-avoiding bone spurs and joking that the only military commander Trump ever liked was Col. Sanders. Read more about Mattis versus Trump at Politico.