National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster On His Way Out?

National Security Adviser H.L. McMaster is the latest person rumored to be considering moving on from the Trump Administration.

CNN is reporting that National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster could be the next member of the Trump Administration on his way out:

With tensions flaring between President Donald Trump and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the Pentagon is considering options that would allow the President to potentially move the three-star general out of his current role and back into the military, according to half a dozen defense and administration officials.

A search is quietly being conducted by the Pentagon to see if there is a four-star military job suited for McMaster, these officials said.

Several sources told CNN that the push for a replacement comes after months of personal tension between McMaster and Trump. The task of easing McMaster out of his role as national security adviser presents a unique challenge for the White House.

While administration officials have privately said the preference is to move McMaster into a position within the Army or Defense Department that qualifies as a promotion, some within the Pentagon feel he has become politicized in the White House and have expressed reservations about him returning to the military in a prominent role. Some defense officials caution that the President could also go as far as not to offer him a fourth star and force him to retire.

This is not the first time McMaster has faced speculation that his job may be in jeopardy and sources with knowledge of McMaster’s standing in the White House have repeatedly said that he has been on thin ice for months.

There was discussion in the West Wing about replacing him last fall, but he ultimately survived because officials, including the President himself, were skeptical about the optics of appointing a third national security adviser in less than a year, several sources told CNN. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned amid controversy over his contact with Russian officials within a month of taking the job.

The decision was also driven by the White House’s challenge attracting top talent for jobs in the administration due to Trump’s “blacklist” of individuals who have criticized the President, his personality and the Russia investigation, according to a senior Republican source.


Tensions between Trump and McMaster have been playing out for months and were on full display this weekend after Trump publicly chided him over remarks he made regarding Russian interference in the election.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump tweeted. “Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

The criticism laid bare the strained relationship between the two men and left some wondering how much longer McMaster has left in the administration. For months, Trump has privately expressed irritation with McMaster stemming from differences in “personality and style,” the senior Republican source said.

The two have never gotten along, and Trump continues to chafe at McMaster’s demeanor when he briefs him, feeling that he is gruff and condescending, according to a source who is familiar with his thinking.

He prefers the briefing style of someone like CIA Director Mike Pompeo or Defense Secretary James Mattis, who patiently answer his questions, regardless of the premise. McMaster, meanwhile, is the person who delivers the news that Trump doesn’t want to hear on a daily basis, according to the senior Republican source.

The issue is not political but mostly stylistic, as McMaster and Mattis tend to discuss information before it is presented to the President, the same source added.

CNN previously reported that McMaster has been at odds with the President and other cabinet officials over the last year.

He has also been undercut by others in Trump’s orbit like former chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to congressional and administration officials. A source familiar with the situation said Trump’s perception of McMaster is still influenced by the legacy of Bannon who maintained a tense relationship with McMaster after McMaster removed him from the National Security Council.

“He paid McMaster back by spreading rumors and whispering in Trump’s ear,” the senior Republican source said, adding that “Bannon poisoned the well.”

This report comes almost exactly one year after Trump announced McMaster’s appointment to replace retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who was dismissed from his position after it was revealed that he had lied to transition team officials and to Vice-President Pence about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States during the transition period. To a large degree, the McMaster appointment was viewed positively by the broader foreign policy/national security community given both his military experience and the fact that it seemed as though he, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would serve as something as a voice of reason at Trump’s side on foreign policy issues. For the most part, this has proven to be the case, especially since Trump has largely managed to listen to these advisers, to the heads of the intelligence agencies, and to his generals. As a result, while we’ve seen Trump spout off on issues such as North Korea on Twitter, and he has undertaken some mistaken foreign policy steps such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, decertifying Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, and unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, the general direction of American foreign policy has, so far at least, not strayed very far from the path it was on during the Obama Administration. The prospect of one of the members of that triumvirate leaving, therefore, is troublesome largely due to the fact that it means one less relatively sane voice advising the President on what may be the most important policy area that any President deals with.

CNN’s report doesn’t really go into any discussion of who could be a potential successor to McMaster as National Security Adviser, but the possibilities that come to mind are quite concerning. One such name is John Bolton, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, who has been mentioned as a potential member of the Trump foreign policy team since before Inauguration Day. While Bolton has not been appointed to any such position so far, in no small part because there’s a good chance he might not make it through the Senate even with majority Republican control. The National Security Adviser position, though, is one that isn’t subject to Senate confirmation, so that would be one hurdle to a possible Bolton appointment. Another name that has been brought up in the past is Elliot Abrams, who served in various State Department positions under President Reagan. Like Bolton, an Abrams appointment that required Senate approval would probably run into roadblocks, but that wouldn’t be an issue if they were brought in to face McMaster. While Trump has passed on appointing either one of these men to any position so far, if McMaster leaves, it’s likely that their names will be floated again if McMaster does step aside. Given the ideas that both men have floated in the past, the idea of either them being one of the President’s top national security advisers would be concerning to say the very least.

All of this is speculation, of course, and so far at least there’s no outward sign that McMaster is on his way out or that he wants to return to the military much in the same way that Colin Powell did after he served as National Security Adviser to President Reagan and then became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush. Alternatively, McMaster could decide that he wants to retire altogether. Nonetheless, given the amount of turnover we’ve already seen in Trump’s White House, his departure would not be at all surprising. As I said, though, the crucial quetion would be who replaces him if he does move on.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. michael reynolds says:

    McMaster will wear the Scarlet Orange ‘T’ for the rest of his life. He’ll be invited to speak only so that people can pump him for juicy gossip, then that will dry up. He will never again be broadly respected. No decent university will have him. Only the most desperate-for-attention think tanks will have him. He’s of no use to the networks beyond, again, gossip.

    From here on in, and for the rest of his life, no one will ever take him seriously. He will forever be what he allowed himself to become: another spineless, groveling enabler of a sick man.


  2. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds: I get your point but I’m not so sure I agree. I think we will be shocked at just how many of Trump’s appointees will repaint themselves as the lone voice of sanity trying desperately to staunch the flood of disaster.

    And for that matter, I think McMaster may have a legitimate claim. As for my bet on who is the least deserving guy that will successfully pull it off? Jeff Sessions.


  3. Kathy says:

    Shouldn’t McMaster get in line behind Tillerson and Kelly first? I thought Republicans hated line jumpers.


  4. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: It would be unfortunate if this happened to McMaster, who is without the slightest doubt one of the most brilliant military minds of his generation.

    Presented with the choice of serving as Trump’s NSA or resigning his commission, he chose to serve. Whether that was out of loyalty to the office, or to do his best to protect America from Trump, we may never know.


  5. CSK says:


    It’s true we’ll never know for sure, but I tend to think that McMaster got into this to do what he could to protect the U.S. from Trump.


  6. Slugger says:

    I hear that he actually has a security clearance which disqualifies him from being close to the President.


  7. mattb says:

    I am starting to have “may be leaving fatigue.” I realize that the administration has had an unusually high turnover rate. And that there has been a TON of drama around the departures that have happened.

    At the same time, I also ran out of fingers and toes to count the number of times a major cabinet and advisor figures have be rumored to be all but out the door. From Tillerson to Kelly to Sessions to Wray, and now McMaster.

    The stories could all be true and the administration found ways to keep them. And yes, the fact the stories continue speak volumes about the continuing level of chaos that seems to be happening at the White House.

    All that said, there has been a hell of a lot of smoke about these departures with very little fire to show for it.


  8. al-Ameda says:

    He’s a smart man.
    Trump either humiliates or somehow diminishes everyone who signs on to serve him.


  9. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t buy that argument, not anymore, not after seeing how low Kelly has fallen, how much of a dirtbag he turned out to be despite all the credulous encomiums. If you agree to work for Trump there is something deeply wrong with you, and it ain’t an excess of patriotism. These people want to pull the “I’m the grown-up controlling the child. . .” and it isn’t going to work. No one is controlling the child, the child is running the grown-ups.

    Anyone with a lick of sense could have seen where serving Trump was going, and if McMaster was actually dumb enough to think he’d be anything but an enabler, he’s too stupid to be in the White House.

    What’s Reince Priebus up to lately? The man is 45 and washed-up.


  10. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: I agree Kelly isn’t the man we once thought. Not sure that applies to McMaster, I’m still reserving judgment. I’m just thinking how pathetic it was when Republicans hated on Jon Huntsman Jr. for having the gall to serve as a diplomat under Obama.


  11. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    A search is quietly being conducted by the Pentagon to see if there is a four-star military job suited for McMaster, these officials said.

    Good thing he doesn’t have to count on my support for that to happen. BTW, why is it that Republicans and Conservatives are always against “make work government jobs” when it comes to welfare moms and black teenagers but not when it comes to high-ranking military officers? (And don’t bother saying “no, no, this is a REAL job;” I’m not buying.)


  12. gVOR08 says:
  13. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s not that simple with McMaster because he’s still an active duty general, and has to consider both the wishes of the C-in-C (which have the force of an order) and the effect resigning his commission for essentially political reasons would have on the Army’s young officers.

    Maybe now he’s thinking “I should have just bagged it and quit” but I doubt that was true when he was selected.

    In any case, these reports:

    Trump continues to chafe at McMaster’s demeanor when he briefs him, feeling that he is gruff and condescending

    would seem to indicate McMaster is living up to his long-standing reputation as someone with little tolerance for bullshit.


  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Mikey: As far as I know he is inseparable from his work on counter-insurgency. And counter-insurgency is (my ‘umble opinion) something the U.S. military never ever wants to mess with again. Too many careers down the tubes.

    He also made a sensation by telling a bit of the truth about the cynicism of U.S. Army commanders in VietNam. Just a bit. But big sensation.

    Then Mr Trump got elected. Michael Reynolds has the results of that down pat.

    Impressive gentleman in terms of the military. Somewhat less than really impressive to me.


  15. michael reynolds says:


    would seem to indicate McMaster is living up to his long-standing reputation as someone with little tolerance for bullshit.

    No, it just indicates that among the many, many leakers in the Trump White House someone is leaking nice things about McMaster.

    He was not required to take the job. He could have stayed a general, instead he abased himself and betrayed his country by serving a traitor. I’m a big fan of the US Army, I grew up an army brat, but McMaster chose to become a Trump enabler rather than continue to serve this country as an officer. He is of necessity part of the Trump obstruction of justice, part as well of the Trump corruption. There is no such thing as an innocent mafia member. If you’re in the gang, you’re responsible for the activities of the gang, and McMaster is in the gang.


  16. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    He was not required to take the job. He could have stayed a general, instead he abased himself and betrayed his country by serving a traitor.

    No, he could not have stayed a general (actually, he still is a general, but I get your meaning). He could not have turned down the job because as C-in-C, Trump’s request had the force of an order. McMaster had only two choices: say yes, or resign his commission and retire.

    McMaster chose to become a Trump enabler rather than continue to serve this country as an officer.

    Again, those were not his choices. Had he said no to Trump, he’d have had to give up his stars and retire.

    Maybe you think that would have been the noble and heroic thing to do, maybe you’re right. But maybe McMaster has been the one standing between Trump and the nuclear button. It’s not likely we’ll know either way. But the fact Trump doesn’t like McMaster tells me McMaster is doing something right.


  17. rachel says:

    But the fact Trump doesn’t like McMaster tells me McMaster is doing something right.

    Possibly, but remember that Boss Tweet is nothing if not fickle. He dislikes everybody sooner or later.