Two senior White House staffers, including communications director Hope Hicks – have announced their departures from the West Wing this week, and now NBC is reporting that National Security Advisor HR McMaster is on the verge of being pushed out.
According to NBC, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis have orchestrated McMaster’s ouster, even going so far as to select a leading candidate for the job, whom they will presumably recommend to the president.
McMaster could be handing in his resignation as early as next month.
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
McMaster – who recently elicited an angry tweet from his boss after telling the audience at a forum in Germany that evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 race was “incontrovertible” – has never fit in with the rest of the administration. He was tapped to step in for Mike Flynn when he resigned after only 24 days on the job. McMaster had no previous connection to the Trump campaign, and refused to retire from the Army upon taking the job, maintaining his rank of active duty lieutenant general.
The leading candidate to replace McMaster is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun. Biegun, a former National Security Council staffer who was introduced to Mattis and Kelly by Condoleezza Rice, has reportedly been vetted by both Kelly and Mattis. Biegun needs a few weeks to get his finances in order, allowing him to take the job.
Biegun, who currently serves as vice president of international governmental affairs for the Ford Motor Company, is no stranger to the White House. He served on the National Security Council staff from 2001 to 2003, including as a senior staffer for then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Rice introduced Biegun to Mattis, recommending him for a position in the administration, according to a close associate of Rice. After Mattis met with Biegun at a think tank event he was convinced Biegun would be a good fit for the national security adviser role, the associate said.
Two people close to Biegun said he would need several weeks to get his financial affairs in order to be able to join the administration this spring.
Mr. Biegun did not respond himself to a request for comment, but Ford Motor Company spokesperson Christin Baker said, “Steve has no plans to leave Ford.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Mattis has reportedly assured Kelly that he would offer McMaster either another three-star job in the Army or even a promotion after he leaves the administration.
As an Army major, he turned his Ph.D. dissertation into a best-selling book that became mandatory reading inside the halls of the Pentagon and on military bases around the world. “Dereliction of Duty” held military leaders responsible for the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, arguing that they quietly acquiesced to the demands of President Lyndon S. Johnson rather than providing their best counsel.
He earned a Silver Star as a tank commander during the Gulf War. During McMaster’s promotion to lieutenant general, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno called him “the rarest of soldiers,” admiring his ability to repeatedly “buck the system and survive to join its senior ranks.”
McMaster took over command of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in 2012 and was planning to retire last summer until he got a surprise call from the White House in February 2017.
Now, a year later, a source close to Mattis said the Pentagon chief assured Kelly that he would offer McMaster a graceful landing, either another three-star job in the Army or even a promotion to a four-star general.
To be sure, this isn’t the first report claiming McMaster’s days in the administration were numbered. He has somehow managed to hang on this long despite a torrent of criticism from Trump, his supporters and political allies. He has also committed the gravest sin of all – in Trump’s mind, at least: Disloyalty.
Could McMaster, by all accounts a widely respected commander in the Army who turned his PhD thesis into a book that is now required reading at the Pentagon, find a way to hang on? Perhaps.
But maybe the real question is, does he even want to stay?