As President Trump Bashes NATO, Republicans Are Largely Silent

Mr. Mattis has assiduously avoided the limelight during his tenure because he is fearful, aides said, about being put on the spot by questions that will expose differences with his boss. He has batted down multiple requests from the White House to go on “Fox & Friends” to praise the president’s agenda. And he has appeared before reporters at the podium in the Pentagon press room only a handful of times, giving remarkably few on-the-record one-on-one news media interviews — one of which was with a reporter for a high school newspaper in Washington State who had obtained Mr. Mattis’s cellphone number.

“Secretary Mattis lives by a code that is part of his DNA,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, who retired last month from the Navy after serving as a spokesman for Mr. Mattis since early in the Trump administration. “He is genetically incapable of lying, and genetically incapable of disloyalty.”

That means the defense secretary’s only recourse is to stay silent, aides to Mr. Mattis said. While he does not want to publicly disagree with his boss, he is also uncomfortable with showering false praise on Mr. Trump.

But cracks are showing.

In April, John R. Bolton became the White House national security adviser, replacing Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who was long viewed as a subordinate to Mr. Mattis because of his rank as a three-star general compared with the retired Marine general’s four stars. Mr. Bolton is far more hawkish than either Mr. Mattis or General McMaster; administration officials said his deputy, Ms. Ricardel, actively dislikes the Pentagon chief — a feeling Mr. Mattis is believed to return in full.

Ms. Ricardel, a former Boeing executive who worked at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration, has a reputation for being as combative as Mr. Bolton.

As the Trump transition official responsible for Pentagon appointments, Ms. Ricardel stopped Mr. Mattis from hiring Anne Patterson as under secretary of defense for policy, one of the department’s highest political jobs. Ms. Patterson was a career diplomat who served as an ambassador under Presidents Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, but administration officials said Ms. Ricardel suspected Mr. Mattis was trying to load up the Pentagon with Democrats and former supporters of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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