The White House administration has been anything but stable, and there appears to be another rift. H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, is reportedly a source of tension for chief strategist Steve Bannon and others. Amid reports of McMaster dismissing Trump loyalists and of conflicting ideologically with Bannon, stability in the West Wing is unclear.
Trump supporters were outraged by reports that McMaster is purging the National Security Council (NSC) of long-time Trump loyalists. Reportedly, those loyalists regularly clash with holdovers from the Obama administration. Rather than purge the Obama staffers, some conservatives have pointed out, McMaster is ousting staffers chosen specifically to help implement Trump’s agenda for the department.
While it was reported that many of the decisions were made without Trump’s knowledge, the president himself defended McMaster last week, sending a statement to The New York Times that read: “General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
Political pundits weren’t relieved by the president’s statement of confidence in McMaster, especially considering many of the people being fired were helping the president. For instance, McMaster fired Rich Higgins, a top official on the NSC, who was vocalizing concerns that globalists and Islamists were working to defeat President Trump’s agenda, some from within the government.
McMaster also let Derek Harvey go, the former Defense Intelligence Agency colonel having presented a list of names of NSC staffers suspected of leaking information to the press. Similarly, he tried to fire Ezra Watnick-Cohen, the staffer who exposed Obama’s spying on Trump’s people.
Reportedly, White House aides Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon disagreed with McMaster over his personnel decisions, including his efforts to replace Watnick-Cohen with Anne Patterson, a Muslim Brotherhood ally who had drafted the Benghazi talking points during the Obama era.
Despite Kushner and Bannon’s objections and the president’s intervention, McMaster eventually fired Watnick-Cohen.
That decision solidified the conflict between Bannon and McMaster, according to reports.
The Washington Examiner, citing “a source close to the White House,” says the firing of Watnick-Cohen “never would have happened under Reince.” The Examiner writes:
“Trump did not sign off on the move because he had already given incoming chief of staff John Kelly broad permission to oversee hiring and firing decisions below the senior counselor level.”
According to the source, Watnick-Cohen’s removal proved to be a “red line for a lot of people.”
Still, some conservative Trump loyalists say McMaster is firing people who are Bannon allies, not Trump allies, according to another source cited by The Washington Examiner, this time a senior administration official.
According to The Washington Examiner:
McMaster and Bannon represent two very different factions of Republican foreign policy orthodoxy. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, is an advocate of reduced global engagement and aggressive action against Iran, the Islamic State, and “globalist” economic policy.
McMaster, on the other hand, is said to support more conventional foreign policy ideas, including the maintenance of the status quo when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal.
The Examiner says that “a source familiar with the situation” reports that as McMaster worked to re-certify the Iran agreement, other’s in the administration questioned his motives and doubted his ability to fulfill Trump’s agenda in the position. As the president claimed the Iran agreement was poorly negotiated, McMaster was expressing doubt that Iran had violated the terms of the deal.
Sources say that while McMaster and more conservative members of the administration have clashed in the past, Kelly’s arrival as the new chief of staff has emboldened McMaster, who is now taking steps he wouldn’t have in the past. The source said tensions are building between conservative Trump loyalists and McMaster, according to the report.
Reportedly, suggestions to reassign McMaster have been presented to the president, including the idea that McMaster be placed in charge of the war in Afghanistan.
McMaster’s allies say the concerns against him are part of an “alt-right” push to keep only pure loyalists close to the president, and possibly to divide White House staff. McMaster’s supporters even cite Russian Twitter bots for spreading a hashtag calling on Trump to “#FireMcMaster” over the weekend.
According to the Examiner’s source:
“McMaster clearly has an organized campaign to keep his job, and these people are spreading this idea that it’s the alt-right and the Russians, and that is outrageous. So many people are repeating this alt-right Russia meme … this didn’t just come of out of nowhere.”
President Trump ultimately gave Kelly discretion to fire or keep McMaster. Still, one source said the president may be waiting to move any more administration staff for now, in order to avoid the perception that the White House is in turmoil, whether he’s happy with McMaster’s performance or not.
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