Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week defended the president’s informal discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G-20 summit dinner earlier this month, which critics framed as a “secret” second meeting with the world leader on the sidelines.
“I’ve been to hundreds of these dinners, ladies and gentlemen. And you just walk around talking to people. You don’t want to be bored sitting there, eating your pate de foie gras,” he said.
“Look, I’m not trying to make fun of you guys in the press. But people do get up and go see their wife at dinner. And if they’re sitting next to the other country who just had a two-hour talk, whatever it was, of course they’re going to talk. You know what I mean?” he said.
“My God, he talked to Putin. Give me a break,” he added.
“But I’m not trying to make fun of anybody here. But, believe me, if you watched me at dinner, you’d find me talking to some ne’er-do-wells, you know? Just the way I do business,” he said.
Mattis said it was easier in a social setting to talk to people whom you disagree with, since more superficial things are discussed.
“You know, you talk to people who agree, but mostly you try and talk to people who disagree with you when you’re in a social setting because that’s when you can probably get into more than superficial things,” he said.
“You know, we’re still human underneath those titles, you know. And it’s good to sit down and talk with people,” he said.
Mattis then paraphrased a famous quote by United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” he said.