Trump Has Reportedly Decided To Remove National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster

H.R. McMaster appears to be on the way out as National Security Adviser. The important question is, who replaces him?

The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump has decided to dismiss his National Security Adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster:

President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements, according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration.

Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up, these people said.

The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and un­certainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.

For all of the evident disorder, Trump feels emboldened, advisers said — buoyed by what he views as triumphant decisions last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and to agree to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back late Thursday on Twitter: “Just spoke @POTUS and Gen H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.”

Before The Washington Post report was published, a White House spokesperson checked with several senior White House officials and did not dispute that the president had made a decision. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — who has personally been eager to see McMaster go —has also told White House staff in recent days that Trump had made up his mind about ousting McMaster.

Just days ago, Trump used Twitter to fire Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state whom he disliked, and moved to install his close ally, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in the job. On Wednesday, he named conservative TV analyst Larry Kudlow to replace his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who quit over trade disagreements.

And on Thursday, Trump signaled that more personnel moves were likely. “There will always be change,” the president told reporters. “And I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas.”

This portrait of the Trump administration in turmoil is based on interviews with 19 presidential advisers and administration officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid perspectives.

The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally.

But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce — openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next, though few, if any, have much reliable information about what is actually going on.

Several candidates have emerged as possible McMaster replacements, including John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff of the National Security Council.

Kellogg travels with Trump on many domestic trips, in part because the president likes his company and thinks he is fun. Bolton has met with Trump several times and often agrees with the president’s instincts. Trump also thinks Bolton, who regularly praises the president on Fox News Channel, is good on television.

Some in the White House have been reluctant to oust McMaster from his national security perch until he has a promotion to four-star rank or other comfortable landing spot. They are eager to show that someone can serve in the Trump administration without suffering severe damage to their reputation.

There has been a death watch for McMaster for several weeks. After NBC reported on March 1 that Trump was preparing to replace him, the White House dismissed that report as “fake news” — but over the past 48 hours, officials told The Post that Trump has now made a clear decision and the replacement search is more active.

This isn’t the first report that McMaster may be on the way out. Such reports began to circulate at the end of February and have only become more likely. At the time, it was reported that tensions between Trump and his National Security Adviser had flared in recent months, principally over issues such as the statements that McMaster made acknowledging that the Russians did indeed interfere in the 2016 elections, something that the President still has not fully acknowledged publicly notwithstanding the fact that his own intelligence chiefs have done so and that the recent indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller have made readily apparent. It also appears that much like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, McMaster has not been fully on board with some of the recent decisions the President has made, such as the decertification of Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed to by the United States and five other major world powers in 2015.

It was just over a year ago that McMaster was named Trump’s National Security Adviser after Michael Flynn was forced to resign in the wake of the revelation that he had lied to Vice-President Pence and other members of the Trump transition team regarding his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States prior to Inauguration Day. McMaster remained and still remains on active duty with the U.S. military, making him the first active duty officer to hold the position of National Security Adviser since Colin Powell served in that position during the final years of the Reagan Administration. That fact appears to be at least part of the reason why there hasn’t been any formal announcement of McMaster’s since it would be necessary to find some kind of active duty assignment for McMaster if he decided to stay in the military. In Powell’s case, of course, he went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush, a position which he served in during the Persian Gulf War. That isn’t really an option for McMaster, though, since that position is filled and there don’t appear to be many other command positions that he could be assigned to without it being seen as a demotion. Of course, McMaster could decide to retire, which would solve that particular issue, but until those details are ironed out it looks as though McMaster will remain in place for now. His days appeared to be numbered, though.

In light of the dismissal earlier this week of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week, the news of the departure of McMaster should be particularly troubling to those hoping that the President will follow something resembling a rational foreign policy. For the most part, Trump has been guided during most of this first year of his term by a triumvirate of advisers that included both Tillerson and McMaster along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. With Tillerson gone and apparently ready to be replaced by C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo, and McMaster apparently on the way as well, that triumvirate is now down to one person, albeit one that Trump does appear to give a fairly high degree of deference to, at least for the moment.

Perhaps of most concern, though, is the prospect of who ends up replacing McMaster. At this point, the top two choices appear to be Keith Kellogg, a Retired Army Lt. General who currently serves as Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff to the National Security Council and John Bolton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. I can’t say that I know much of anything about Kellogg, but his time in the military suggests that he’d be similar to Mattis and McMaster in his temperament and in the advice that he would likely give to the President. Bolton, on the other hand, is, unfortunately, an all too well-known commodity. He has long been considered one of the strongest hawks on the right, and his appointment as U.N. Ambassador was controversial enough that President Bush was forced to utilize a recess appointment to put him in office since it was clear he could not be confirmed even while Republicans still controlled the Senate prior to the 2006 elections. On that note, it’s worth noting that the post of National Security Adviser is a White House Staff position akin to Chief of Staff and therefore does not require Senate confirmation.

During the past decade, Bolton has been a consistent advocate for a harder line against Iran, including advocating military action, and was a harsh critic of the JCPOA both while it was being negotiated and after it went into effect. Notwithstanding earlier reports that he had been frozen out of the White House by Chief of Staff John Kelly among others, there have been several reports in recent months that Bolton has been meeting and talking to President Trump quite frequently, and he has been spotted at the White House by reporters, although it’s not been clear who he’s been meeting or why. For that and other reasons, reports have indicated that Bolton is the leading candidate to replace McMaster, something that has been rumored as far back as January. If that happens, then it looks like James Mattis will be the last voice of reason on foreign policy in the Trump Administration, and one wonders how that will impact his ability to hold the President back from impulses that are best avoided in perhaps the most important part of a President’s job.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, 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

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    During the past decade, Bolton has been a consistent advocate for a harder line against Iran, including advocating military action, and was a harsh critic of the JCPOA both while it was being negotiated and after it went into effect

    It’s always Ground Hog Day when it comes to John Bolton. I think Bolton would survive a nuclear detonation even if he was only 100 feet from the bomb it self.

    10
  2. Kathy says:

    Trump wants to make sure McMaster isn’t humiliated?

    I wonder what the general has on him.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    If that happens, then it looks like James Mattis will be the last voice of reason on foreign policy in the Trump Administration

    Says something when the last voice of reason is the one who’s nickname is “Mad Dog”.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:
  5. MBunge says:

    I’ve given up on Mataconis writing anything like this without including Russia but it’s pretty ridiculous to completely ignore John Kelly’s apparent support for ousting McMasters while specifically mentioning Kelly’s apparent disdain for Bolton. This might be even worse than only posting when Trump has bad poll numbers. It’s right there in the article, for pity’s sake!

    Mike

    20
  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    @MBunge:

    It’s right there in the article, for pity’s sake!

    So you are mad that Doug didn’t mention Kelly’s support for ousting McMaster, even though he specifically included a passage mentioning Kelly’s support for ousting McMaster, which you actually highlight.

    You’re complaining that something isn’t included, while pointing out that it’s included.

    Oy vey.

    18
  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    To be fair, trying to BungSplain this abortion of a presidency without admitting why you actually support it has to be exceptionally difficult. 😀

    15
  8. Franklin says:

    @al-Ameda: A mustache like that is basically armor.

  9. inhumans99 says:

    @MBunge:

    Slow down MBunge, in your rush to be this sites contrarian you are tripping over your words to try and make your point. As Neil just pointed out you highlight something from the article that you claim is not in the article…so to that I say, umm, what??

    President Trump wants to bomb Iran so badly he can taste it and John Bolton will whisper the words in his ear that provide a rationalization to do so notwithstanding the fact that I bet most of the GOP would prefer to continue to use the Iran deal as a talking point against Democrats but not actually get into a full blown conflict. Especially in a year that is already stacked against them at the ballot box.

    Bombing Iran is not the same as bombing Syria where we can drop a few bombs and leave knowing they will do squat against our forces in the region, they have their own means of retaliating and unlike Syria do not need the Russians to make life miserable for their neighbors.

    I know we are going to end up bombing Iran because the GOP has wanted to do this for what 20, 30, 40 years (I am 46 and have been reading about hypotheticals as to what would happen if we bombed Iran for practically most of my life), so I hope the GOP is prepared for the possible fallout at the ballot box.

    11
  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Hey, it’s the start of the new season! Got to get a new cast together so as not to lose the viewers. Nobody wants to see the same old faces year after year. Only the star stays in place.

    It’s actually ridiculously easy to know why Trump does anything when you remember that being a reality TV presence was such a huge part of his brand.

    13
  11. matt bernius says:

    And again, as with Tillerson earlier this week, we see that the overall reporting was right about McMaster’s departure, but they got the time frame incorrect.

    Given this pattern, there’s reason the believe that Kelly isn’t long for the White House either. I look forward to hearing how administration apologists will spin that while arguing that “there is no chaos on Pennsylvania Ave” and that all the reports of such are fake news.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    When Trump was elected there were many people arguing that he would be constrained by the office, constrained by the laws, and constrained by the people around him, and they would limit the damage. I made the argument that Trump is not just a “far end of the spectrum” president but rather is functionally equivalent to installing an outright lunatic in the office. (I don’t think he is crazy, but because of his inherent stupidity and gargantuan delusions about himself and the real world, his actions are indistinguishable from an actual madman.) I said that absent a strong and ongoing oversight by the congress the constraints would eventually fall away. And I said (so many times I’m sure everyone here is sick of it) that any Republican congress critter with the integrity and cojones necessary to stand up to the Trumpoids had been primaried out of office a decade or more ago. If anything, I understated this last case. Not only is the Republican Congress not exercising any meaningful oversight whatsoever, there is a significant contingent that are actively trying to destroy our legal institutions in order to protect Trump.

    I wish I had been wrong about all of that, but this McMaster business shows just where we are going.

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kathy:

    That he’s an active duty general officer. Embarrassing one of those tends not to go over well, even with (probably especially with) Trump’s idiot base.

  14. Hal_10000 says:

    Bolton would be a catastrophe. Bolton is deranged, incompetent, a terrible manager, a bully and a warmonger. This is one of the few times I will linke Vox which talks about his hearing and how he tried to get us into a conflict with Cuba, attacking his own staff when they told him that Cuba didn’t have WMDs. As I said on Twitter, Bolton pretends to be an outsider but he’s really the ultimate insider. No matter how wrong he has been on everything, he parlays that into more wealth and power.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I wish you were right. But Trump’s 40% will swallow whatever Trump feeds them. He could disinter George Washington and p*ss on the corpse and the Trumpoids would say ol’ George had it coming.

  16. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    No no, no. McMaster is a “globalist” (he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations) and he loves “mooslimes.”

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan: @CSK:

    Cue up the outraged Democrats losing their religion over Trump & Friends having the temerity to attack an active duty officer (and frankly one of the most brilliant military commanders of his era).

    We get to simultaneously spray Trump with feces, put Republicans in the position of having to denounce him AND get to wrap ourselves in the flag? In an election year??

    Sign me up … 🙂

  18. An Interested Party says:

    I know we are going to end up bombing Iran because the GOP has wanted to do this for what 20, 30, 40 years…

    Well, considering how friendly the GOP was to Iran in the mid-80s, it is amazing to see how they’ve changed their tune…perhaps they forget that legacy of Reagan…hell, Reagan himself forgot it…

  19. MBunge says:

    Well, they were right about somebody getting fired…just the wrong somebody.

    Mike

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MBunge:

    Yup, two days before he was eligible for retirement, solely to deny him his pension.

    That’s the sort of toilet dweller you’re busily servicing …