Trump Replaces McMaster With Hawkish Bolton

Three-star general will retire from Army this summer

The Ides of March may not have been a good day for the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — who, politically speaking, may be in the process of getting shivved by President Donald Trump, Walter Shapiro writes. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
The Ides of March may not have been a good day for the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — who, politically speaking, may be in the process of getting shivved by President Donald Trump, Walter Shapiro writes. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
Posted March 22, 2018 at 6:58pm

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is leaving the White House as President Donald Trump brings in his third national security adviser in 14 months amid signals the president is poised to execute a West Wing purge.

A White House official said Trump and McMaster mutually agreed on the resignation. 

In a Thursday evening tweet, Trump announced he is replacing McMaster as national security adviser with the hawkish firebrand John Bolton. Bolton will start April 9; McMaster will retire from the Army this summer.

“We’re seeing more of the true Trump for sure because he’s slowly winnowing the opposing points of view,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told MSNBC. “He should be welcoming a McMaster who disagrees with him rather than shielding himself from that.”

Bolton’s appointment should spur lawmakers to consider whether the national security adviser role should be subject to Senate confirmation, Blumenthal said.

Just last Friday, senior White House officials assured reporters McMaster would not be fired. But the president clearly had other plans. McMaster’s exit only fuels a turnover rate the Brookings Institution concluded is higher than the previous five presidents.

Bolton has long had the president’s ear. He was George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and a leading advocate of the 2003 Iraq war. His appointment is sure to be controversial and bring criticism from many in the diplomatic and national security realms — many among their ranks believe Bolton has been wrong about a list of issues for years.

Bolton was so controversial a pick even back then that Bush used a recess appointment to make him UN ambassador even though the Senate was under GOP control. The announcement came amid criticism of Trump for shaking up his personal legal team as he has started attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name, saying Thursday he still wants to meet with Mueller.

By picking Bolton, who was spotted entering the West Wing earlier Thursday, Trump is tacking toward the bombastic policy ideas he ran on as a candidate. Oddly, Bolton is hawkish and believes in U.S. military power and intervention around the globe; Trump wants to focus on domestic matters and thinks America has too often plunged into misadventures or kept other countries safe at its own peril.

Trump, an avid cable news consumer, recently added Larry Kudlow of CNBC to his lead his economic team. Bolton is a frequent commentator on Fox News.

In recent weeks, Trump confidant and White House communications director Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, his chief economic adviser, have stepped down. Last week, Trump’s personal assistant Johnny McEntee resigned amid allegations of financial missteps. Those departures followed a slew of others, including multiple Cabinet secretaries and two deputy chiefs of staff, two deputy national security advisers, three communications directors, a press secretary, his longtime security director, and others.

“H.R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years. He has won many battles and his bravery and toughness are legendary,” Trump said in a statement. “Gen. McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.”

A Washington Post report published on March 15 cited multiple sources saying Trump also no longer values those of McMaster, who was brought in to bring stability to the National Security Council after the controversial Michael Flynn was let go two dozen days into Trump’s presidency.

Sending McMaster packing in the wake of Tillerson’s ouster would be one move in a West Wing cleanup Trump appears eager to bring about.

“We’re really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want,” the president said Tuesday.

The Iran nuclear deal was a key subject on which Trump and Tillerson clashed, the president said. “I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess he felt it was OK.” That disagreement was not “OK” in the end. And differing stances on Russia might have been the last straw when it comes to McMaster’s employ at the White House.

The three-star Army general went to the Munich Security Conference last month and said there is “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump had been reluctant to say that, though he has been somewhat more equivocal on the matter recently.

He also delivered remarks on Wednesday that were tough on Russia. Trump, despite the ongoing Justice Department special counsel and Senate Intelligence Committee probes of possible Trump campaign-Russia collusion, still is often reluctant to say critical things of Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin.