A report from Bloomberg is saying there is conflict between President Trump and his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.
According to the report, things got so tense that Trump screamed at McMaster, in protest of McMaster’s contradicting Trump’s suggesting that allies, South Korea, would need to pay for a missile defense system.
McMaster scores points with both parties for his intellectual heft, but that may be the problem: He’s seen as too “establishment.”
But inside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff.
On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is blocking McMaster on a key appointment.
McMaster’s allies and adversaries inside the White House tell me that Trump is disillusioned with him. This professional military officer has failed to read the president — by not giving him a chance to ask questions during briefings, at times even lecturing Trump.
If McMaster has a vision for a further reach into international territory, then he’s definitely going to clash with Bannon, who has gained loyalty from a large section of Trump’s base by being a strict nationalist.
Trump has blown off any rumors of conflict, by saying he’s happy with McMaster and felt he was doing a fantastic job.
Other White House officials however tell me this is not the sentiment the president has expressed recently in private. Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president’s threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.
This was not an isolated incident. Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about “the general undermining my policy,” according to two White House officials. The president has given McMaster less face time. McMaster’s requests to brief the president before some press interviews have been declined. Over the weekend, McMaster did not accompany Trump to meet with Australia’s prime minister; the outgoing deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, attended instead.
This would certainly seem to be a sign of some general dissatisfaction.
McMaster replaced Michael Flynn, who was forced to step down as national security adviser after misleading Vice President Pence about conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
Trump and Flynn were birds-of-a-feather on the campaign trail, with Flynn being an outspoken surrogate for candidate Trump.
Maybe Trump is just missing having such a devoted ally in the role.
In this sense, McMaster came into the job with one strike against him. He has accumulated more. The first conflict between McMaster and Trump was about the major speech the president delivered at the end of February to a joint session of Congress. McMaster pleaded with the president not to use phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He sent memos throughout the government complaining about a draft of that speech that included the phrase. But the phrase remained. When Trump delivered the speech, he echoed his campaign rhetoric by emphasizing each word: “Radical.” “Islamic.” “Terrorism.”
I can see how that would rub McMaster the wrong way. Trump’s approach is somewhat “indelicate.”
There were also personnel issues.
McMaster wanted to remove a remaining Flynn appointee, Ezra Cohen Watnick, senior director for intelligence with the National Security Council.
The CIA wanted Watnick removed, but Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon pressured McMaster to allow him to stay, so he gave in.
That dispute was followed by a bigger one. Bannon and Trump, according to White House officials, pressed McMaster to fire a list of Obama holdovers at the National Security Council who were suspected of leaking to the press. The list of names was compiled by Derek Harvey, a former Defense Intelligence Agency colonel who was initially hired by Flynn. McMaster balked. He refused to fire anyone on the list and asserted that he had the authority to fire and hire National Security Council staff. He also argued that many of these appointees would be ending their rotation at the White House soon enough.
That was followed by Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, blocking McMaster from hiring Brigadier General Ricky Waddell as his deputy. Priebus stated that McMaster didn’t ask approval for that pick.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that as long as the investigation into Michael Flynn’s involvement with Turkey and Russia is ongoing, you won’t see any major waves around McMaster, but once it’s over, don’t be surprised to see McMaster “resign.”
A prediction, folks. Just a prediction.