'I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it.' Trump said he fired Mattis, while Mattis said he quit after Trump asked him to pull out of Syria which 'went beyond stupid to felony stupid,' Mattis said
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he had Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad lined up for assassination but was talked out of it by his former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Trump made the admission when he called into 'Fox & Friends,' confirming reporting from Bob Woodward's first book on his administration, 'Fear,' which was released two years ago, that Trump wanted to take out Assad after he used chemical weapons on his people in April 2017. Trump had denied the claim previously.
'I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general. And I let him go,' Trump Tuesday.
According to Woodward's 2018 book 'Fear,' the commander-in-chief called Mattis to give the order and said: 'Let's f***ing kill him! Let's go in. Let's kill the f***ing lot of them.'
Mattis agreed to the order to the president's face and then had aides prepare a plan to strike Assad's resources in a 'much more measured' way, Woodward wrote. That was what happened, with airstrikes by cruise missile against limited targets.
Trump denied specifically in 2018, when Woodward's book Fear was published, that an assassination of Assad was ever planned.
'No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated,' he said then.
Killing a world leader would have been a first for the U.S. in any form, although in March 2003, the first airstrikes on Iraq were targeted at a compound in Baghdad after a false intelligence report that Saddam Hussein was present.
It would have shattered relations with Russia, who have seen Assad as a key ally and continue to do so - but it would have drawn a pointed contrast with the Obama administration.
The disclosure by Trump is the latest salvo over Mattis, his first defense secretary.
Mattis spoke to Woodward for Woodward's new book, 'Rage,' released Tuesday, prompting the question on Fox & Friends about the claim in his previous book about Mattis' reaction to the order to kill Assad.
'Rage' contains quotes from the ex-DOD chief where he describes the president as 'dangerous,' 'unfit' and with 'no moral compass.'
Trump said on 'Fox & Friends' that he fired Mattis, although the general told Woodward that he quit in December 2018 'when I was basically directed to do something that I thought went beyond stupid to felony stupid.' That 'something' was an order to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
After he left the administration, he and Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, discussed whether they should take 'collective action' and come out publicly against Trump.
During his Tuesday talk with 'Fox & Friends' hosts, Trump went off on Mattis calling him a 'terrible general' and a 'bad leader.'
'And he wasn't doing the job with ISIS. He was not doing the job with Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS. I got rid of ISIS after he was gone. I did a great job with ISIS, 100 per cent of the caliphate,' Trump boasted.
The president said he didn't regret not killing Assad in April 2017.
'I would have lived either way with that,' Trump said, noting that the Syrian dictator is 'certainly not a good person.'
But, Trump continued, 'Mattis was against it. Mattis was against most of that stuff.'
'He would keep you in military, but he didn't know how to win,' Trump said. 'He had no concept as to win.'
Trump's attempted order to kill Assad was issued after a chemical gas attack - suspected of being sarin nerve agent - on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, which led to the agonizing deaths of 86 people including at least 27 children.
Harrowing footage showed adults and children staggering through the town's streets, foam pouring from their mouths as they fought to breathe.
When the airstrikes which Trump then ordered took place, on April 6 2017, Trump said he had acted in America's 'vital national security interest' to prevent the use of chemical weapons.
He said: 'Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children.
'It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.
'No child of God should ever suffer such horror.'
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate, he added: 'There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention, and ignored the urging of the UN security council.
'Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.
'As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.
'Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.'
Prior to the speech, Trump had entertained his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and their wives at a formal dinner,
Less than two hours after the dinner began, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Assad controlled al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs at 8.45pm eastern time - 4.45am local time - killing at least five and injuring many more.
But the military action sparked a furious response from President Vladimir Putin, who called the airstrikes an 'illegal act of aggression'.
The strikes won broad international support from U.S. allies, with Canada, the UK and France behind the moves, and behind similar strikes in 2018, again prompted by apparent chemical weapons use.
Trump's strike was intended to set a different tone to the actions of the Obama administration, which had set a 'red line in the sand' over the use of chemical weapons by Assad against his own people as civil war raged in 2012, then eventually accepted a deal offered by Putin in which Assad would surrender his chemical weapons.
It became clear later that the surrender of the weapons was only partial.
Trump used what Republicans said was the indecision and weakness to hit Hillary Clinton in a 2016 presidential debate, and his campaign tied it to the rise of ISIS - although Clinton was not in office at the time, and the link to ISIS was uncertain.
Daily Mail — Nikki Schwab contributed to this report.