McMaster Consolidates Control Over the National Security Council

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster pauses during a briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 16, 2017. President Donald Trump claimed the authority to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has "an absolute right" as president to do so. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

One of the continuing legacies of the whole Mike Flynn experience is that he managed to ensconce a lot of his personal loyalists (no aspersion intended on their abilities, I’m not in a position to evaluate that) in the National Security Council. Many of these had patrons in the White House, like Bannon or the Kushners, and they could not be easily moved. As McMaster has gained influence, he has been given increased leeway to structure and man the NSC in a way that he wants, and that way doesn’t include Flynn’s guys.

The first major casualty was K. T. McFarland. Heaven only knows why she was on the NSC in the first place. Since then there has been a series of low key victories. McMaster has hired his choice to be deputy national security adviser.

Two weeks ago, a Steve Bannon ally, a guy named Rich Higgins, was fired for writing a memo that was more a political manifesto than anything to do with national security. (In my opinion is it nutbaggery only a hop-skip-and-jump removed from Bilderbergers and Freemasons taking over the world, YMMV.)

On Thursday, as we were marveling at the amazing flexibility of Steve Bannon as recounted by Anthony Scaramucci, McMaster removed a Flynn loyalist, Derek Harvey, from his role as Middle East director.

Today the hatchet fell again:

National security adviser H.R. McMaster on Wednesday removed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, his senior intelligence director, from his position in the White House more than four months after he initially tried to get him out of the job.

In March, McMaster told the 30-year-old former Defense Intelligence Agency official that he was being moved to another position. But Cohen-Watnick, who worked on the Trump transition team and is close to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appealed to Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist. Bannon and Kushner spoke with Trump, and Cohen-Watnick was kept in place.

McMaster’s removal of Cohen-Watnick suggests that his influence in the White House and control over his personnel might be on the rise because of the arrival of new White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general.

Cohen-Watnick has been something of a lightning rod because he was a junior DIA official who, thanks to the right patronage, was catapulted to oversight of US intelligence programs. He might be a savant but to have that level of responsibility when he would barely be a major in the Armed Forces doesn’t seem right.

Conservative Review has a different take on what is happening than I do. Where they see an ideological purge and the Obama administration being kept intact, I see McMaster trying to build a staff that is not pushing ideology but rather coordinating policy and leaving the ideology to others.

It is difficult not to see the influence of the new chief of staff, John Kelly, in all this and if he supports McMaster the nation will be much safer.