Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' relationship with former national security adviser H.R. McMaster was tense enough that Mattis feigned interruptions of their calls, according to his former speechwriter.
During a flight from Qatar to the US on September 28, 2017, Mattis took a call from McMaster, who was in the White House, according to retired US Navy Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass' book, "Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis."
McMaster sounded "obviously amped up, almost like he'd inhaled one too many energy drinks," and asked Mattis for help with President Donald Trump, Snodgrass writes.
"Mr. Secretary, you don't know how it is over here," McMaster said to Mattis. "I'm doing everything I can. It doesn't work the way you think."
"Well, now, H.R. …," Mattis replied.
Mattis was not sympathetic to McMaster's role, Snodgrass says, and it frequently showed in their conversations.
But McMaster went a step further this time, Snodgrass wrote, by interrupting the defense secretary in the middle of his sentence and irritating him — something Trump aides were rarely able to do.
That led Mattis to feign an interruption in the call, which Snodgrass characterized as "simply icing him out."
"Mr. Secretary, are you there," McMaster asked, as Mattis' aides listened in. The group, Snodgrass writes, "could hear [McMaster] loud and clear."
"H.R., you there," Mattis replied, five seconds later. "I think I lost you for a second."
"Overall," Snodgrass writes, "it went like this with most of Mattis's calls with McMaster. There were few people in the administration who could get as firmly under the secretary's skin as the national security adviser."
'I think he deep down cares too much'
McMaster was appointed by Trump in February 2017, after national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned following the revelation that he lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US. McMaster was replaced in March 2018 by former UN ambassador John Bolton, who was Trump's third national security adviser before his own exit this year.
Mattis was not the only one vexed by McMaster's tendencies, according to Snodgrass. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also frustrated and complained to Mattis about McMaster, accusing him of trying to "consolidate power" from the White House.
McMaster had tense relationships with Mattis and Tillerson. An active-duty three-star Army general, McMaster reportedly complained that Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, looked down on his position in the National Security Council.
Mattis "treats me like a three-star," McMaster told colleagues, according to a 2018 Washington Post report.
"He often gets frustrated, goes through a phase, and his peer support group pulls him out of a funk," a senior official said to The Post prior to McMaster's firing. "I was convinced several times that this was it for his departure. Hasn't happened. I think he deep down cares too much."
Snodgrass' book is an in-depth look at Mattis' two-year tenure as Trump's defense secretary. Snodgrass writes about Mattis' thinking while navigating the Pentagon and recounts how the defense secretary was first notified about the job and Trump's unflattering comments to military leaders about the war in Afghanistan.
The events recollected in the book, which will be released on Tuesday, prompted a rare response from Mattis.
"General Mattis hasn't read the book and doesn't intend to," an assistant for Mattis told Politico in a statement on Wednesday. "Mr. Snodgrass was a junior staff who took notes in some meetings but played no role in decision making. His choice to write a book reveals an absence of character."