Allies of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon intensified
their battle against national security adviser H.R. McMaster this
week as McMaster began asserting more control over the National
Security Council and fired officials
appointed by his immediate predecessor, Michael Flynn.
The dismissals of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Rich Higgins, and Derek
Harvey have exacerbated friction between McMaster and the White
House’s more nationalist wing, which is led by Bannon and has
President Donald Trump’s ear.
“There is a split in the White House between the Bannon camp of
ideologues and the McMaster-Mattis-Tillerson camp of more
centrist intellectuals,” Pete Mansoor, a retired Army colonel
who worked closely with McMaster, told Politico. “And
this conflict is playing out in real time as the Trump
administration tries to flesh out its foreign policy and national
John Kelly’s recent move from homeland security secretary to
White House chief of staff should ensure McMaster’s independence
and control over the NSC — for now.
But the nationalists may have a competitive advantage: Trump, who
already thinks McMaster
is a “pain” who talks too much and has complained to aides
that he wants Flynn back at the White House, is reportedly
considering sending McMaster to replace Gen. John Nicholson
as the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
“What the nationalists are saying about McMaster: ‘He wants to
send more troops to Afghanistan, so we’re going to send
him,'” Axios’ Mike Allen reported
Whether McMaster is ousted or not, efforts to undermine him both
inside and outside the West Wing seem to be well underway.
McMaster has gone to bat for Trump in the past. He defended him to
reporters after Trump disclosed Israeli intelligence to Russian
diplomats in the Oval Office. And he said he “would not be
concerned” if Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared
Kushner, had asked to set up a secret back-channel method of
communication with Moscow during the transition period.
But right-wing media outlets like Breitbart have long harbored
suspicions about McMaster, who persuaded Trump
to stay away from the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in a
speech to Middle Eastern leaders in Saudi Arabia earlier this
Michael Warren, a writer for The Weekly Standard, told CNN on
Friday that Bannon and his allies saw McMaster’s sudden purge of
Flynn appointees as an overt attempt to sabotage Trump’s agenda.
Laura Ingraham, a conservative political commentator and Trump
ally, on Thursday tweeted, “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept
who are leaking [should] do real time for these leaks,” and
questioned why McMaster had “fired actual Trump supporters.”
One former NSC official told The Daily Caller
that McMaster was a “sycophant” of retired Gen. David Petraeus.
The official seemed to try to appeal directly to the president’s
ego, adding that he didn’t understand why Trump was “allowing a
guy who is subverting his foreign policy at every turn to remain
On Thursday, a letter McMaster
wrote to Susan Rice, a national security adviser during the
Obama administration, allowing her to keep her security clearance
was leaked to Circa — an outlet seen as friendly to Trump. Circa
paired the letter, which immediately stirred outrage in far-right
circles, with quotes from anonymous West Wing officials claiming
it undermined the president’s judgment.
“H.R. McMaster is a Deep State Plant who Opposes the Trump
Mike Cernovich, a prominent far-right provocateur who describes
himself as an “American nationalist.”
Cernovich set up a website this week called McMaster Leaks, on which he
alleged the general had “been leaking information to David
Petraeus and has had direct contact with George Soros,” a
billionaire, left-leaning philanthropist and frequent bogeyman of
the far right.
“America needs Rich Higgins in office, not HR McMaster,” tweeted Frank
Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, a
far-right think tank. He added that if McMaster weren’t “fired
for sabotaging” Trump’s agenda, “it will be the McMaster
“Why is Gen McMaster making decisions without even informing Gen
Kelly?” tweeted Jack
Posobiec, a far-right internet activist and pro-Trump conspiracy
theorist. “Is this proper chain of command?”
Twitter accounts that have been linked to Russian influence
operations have jumped on the anti-McMaster bandwagon, too, using
hashtags like #FireMcMaster and #deepstate, according to a
newly launched website that aims to
propaganda efforts in real time.
On Friday, the top and trending websites the accounts were
sharing were the Circa story about McMaster letting Rice keep her
security clearance. Shares of a Breitbart story titled “NSC
Purge: McMaster ‘Deeply Hostile to Israel and to Trump'” have
increased by 2,300% since Wednesday, according to the site, and
“clearance,” “McMaster,” and “Susan Rice” were among the top and