Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has provided support for Donald Trump's efforts to bar transgender people from serving in the military, will retire in February, Trump tweeted today.
The move "completes a near-wholesale shake-up of Trump's initial national security team and follows a record-setting series of departures of administration leaders so early in a presidency," NPR reports.
Mattis was on vacation and reportedly taken by surprise when Trump announced the trans military ban, also via Twitter, in July 2017. But Mattis went along with it, preparing a report in February that Trump used as justification for the ban, which is temporarily blocked while court cases against it proceed.
"Among other things, the policies set forth by the Secretary of Defense state that transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria -- individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery -- are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances," stated a memo released by Trump in March. Those "limited circumstances" consist of serving in the gender they were assigned at birth.
"Mattis was backed into a corner and asked to come up with justification post-hoc," David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said when the memo came out.
Some political observers saw Mattis, a long-serving military man, as slightly more moderate than most of Trump's Cabinet, although he had been on record as opposing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and opposing combat service by women. At any rate, he did not advocate for these positions after he became Defense secretary, and there also have been rumors that he favored allowing transgender troops to serve freely, even though he bowed to Trump on the ban. But he did not recognize Pride Month at the Pentagon this year, reversing a practice that had stood for several years.
Mattis's departure "followed an abrupt decision by Trump this week to withdraw American troops from Syria, over the objections of many of the president's military and national security advisers," NPR notes.
Additionally, it come three months after the publication of Bob Woodward's book Fear, which quoted Mattis as disparaging Trump's intellect as comparable to that of a fifth- or sixth-grader. It described Trump ordering Mattis to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- an order that Mattis pretended he'd carry out, although he eventually came up with a less radical move.
Mattis contended Woodward's account was untrue, but his letter of resignation today revealed a deep divide between him and the president. "Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours ... I believe it is right for me to step down from my position," he wrote, accotding to NPR.