White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are working to push National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster out, perhaps as early as next month, according to a Thursday report from NBC News.
NBC News cites five anonymous sources familiar with the plan, but the White House quickly threw cold water on the report. “We frequently face rumor and innuendo about senior administration officials. There are no personnel announcements at this time,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.
Michael Anton, a National Security Council spokesman, went further, issuing an emphatic denial. “I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office. President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job,” he said in a statement.
The immediate motive for Mattis and Kelly’s plan is not clear from the NBC report, but McMaster’s tenure as national security advisor has been, at times, strained. He was appointed to the post only after President Trump’s first pick for the position, Gen. Micheal Flynn, resigned amid revelations he lied to Vice President Pence over the nature of his transition period contacts with Russian officials.
This summer, McMaster came under fire for his apparent protection of career staff from the Obama White House, instructing them to keep quiet about the fact they were “holdovers.” Since then, he attracted the ire of the Right when he promised his Obama era predecessor Susan Rice she could keep her security clearance, was accused of insulting the president’s intelligence in the most unreserved terms, and showed a reluctance to refer to 9/11 as Islamic terrorism.
The generally Trump-supporting Center for Security Studies (CSS), home to Breitbart News contributor Frank Gaffney, called for McMaster to be replaced in August, claiming he was “undermining” the president’s foreign policy. CSS were soon joined in the call for McMaster to step aside by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), who describe McMaster as “anti-Israel.”
In McMaster’s corner stand Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who have both sought to paint critics of McMaster as “alt right,” “white supremacists,” and “Islamophobes.”
NBC News suggests the man most likely to take up the national security advisor position after McMaster’s departure is Ford Motor Company Vice President and George W. Bush National Security Council member Stephen Biegun. Biegun was the expert the John McCain campaign brought on board to bring running mate Gov. Sarah Palin up to speed on foreign policy. HBO’s Game Change fictionalized Biegun’s involvement, suggesting Palin was so incompetent as to not know the antagonists of the two world wars.
Biegun himself countered post-election criticism of Palin. “It’s depressing,” he told Politico. “We worked our asses off. It was a tough campaign. Then we have this? … I think she was fantastic. She just brought a special energy to our ticket. Look, I was there at those rallies.”
Condoleezza Rice, who was Biegun’s boss in the Bush administration, called him “an outstanding person” on MSNBC. “He’s an expert in foreign policy and of course has spent time in the private sector and obviously he would be very, very good.”