Former Defense secretary applauded 'young Elizabeth' Holmes, but bloom came off

Ethan Baron, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Retired four-star general and former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote admiring messages to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes after she told him of her startup’s technology, but after he joined the board he came to question her promises, jurors heard at Holmes’ criminal fraud trial Wednesday.

“There just came a point where I just didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” Mattis testified.

Mattis was the commander of U.S. and allied forces in the Middle East when he first met Holmes in San Francisco in 2011 after he gave a speech, he testified. She described blood-testing technology that could be used on the battlefield, and the two embarked on an email correspondence, Mattis told jurors.

“Thanks, young Elizabeth. I’m a strong believer in what you have designed/built and hope we can get it into theater soon to test it,” Mattis wrote in 2013.

Holmes’ alleged claims that Theranos machines were deployed by the U.S. Defense Department on the battlefield in Afghanistan and on medevac helicopters are a key issue in the case.

Holmes built a star-studded board that in addition to Mattis included fomer U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the late Secretary of State George Shultz and William Foege, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, highlighting a knack for wooing powerful people to her cause.


Mattis, who would later invest $85,000 in Theranos and sit on the firm’s board, said as a military commander he was captivated by Holmes’ description of a single, small device that could rapidly test blood.

“It would be very, very helpful if it could do what she said it could do,” Mattis testified. “We deal with a lot of violence and we were taking a lot of casualties. You could determine, ‘Do you need to do a medevac in the middle of the night, during a storm?’ What she alluded to me about the speed of this, it could help doctors make decisions about triage, who gets treated first.”

Holmes, he said, was his only source for information about Theranos when he undertook what turned out to be a fruitless effort to get the Defense Department to test Theranos’ devices “side by side” against other companies’ blood-testing machines. He said he wasn’t aware that Theranos’ technology was ever deployed by the department.

Mattis resigned as defense secretary in 2018 after former President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over the strong objections of Mattis and others on the national security team.


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