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H.R. McMaster Reportedly Close To Leaving Administration


President Trump says he likes change, and he is getting a good dose of it. Three months ago, sources within the Trump administration spread the word that the president intended to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. At the time, the White House denied all this. This week, that is precisely what happened. Now we may be seeing a similar story playing out with another senior administration official, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. Hey, Tom.


MARTIN: Is H.R. McMaster out or soon?

BOWMAN: Well, we think he is out. As far as soon, we're not sure when that will be. U.S. officials say he will be leaving his position as national security adviser. Now, President Trump has said publicly he respects H.R. McMaster. But their relationship really has been something of a rocky one. Some of it's policy differences. H.R. McMaster wanted an enduring presence in Afghanistan. Trump - that's something Trump said he wasn't really sure about having.

But a lot of this, I think, is a personality clash. H.R. McMaster is a very aggressive individual. He's a combat veteran of the first Iraq war. He played rugby at West Point. And anybody who knows any rugby players knows those people tend to be relentless and aggressive. And part of this is, you know, he's also a scholar as well, wrote a best-selling book about the Vietnam War. And in Army parlance, he's told - he's said to be all transmit. He likes to lecture. And that rubs some people the wrong way, including the president.

MARTIN: Although, you talk about how this is a guy who the president clearly identified as someone who looked the part, right? Like, that was part of why the president was interested in H.R. McMaster because he was this general with this esteemed resume.

BOWMAN: Right. And President Trump clearly likes to surround himself with generals. You look at Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, John Kelly, his chief of staff - both generals. But, again, I think it's how you treat the president. You know, he has said that Mike Pompeo, the incoming secretary of state, is someone he gets along with well. They have come - good camaraderie, I think. And H.R. McMaster, again, you know, rubs people the wrong way. Even some people at the Pentagon I talked with say he lectures too much. He's too forceful. And clearly, Trump just doesn't like that. I think that's what's going on. Now, one of the problems is where does H.R. McMaster go? There, you know, he's a...

MARTIN: He's still in uniform, right?

BOWMAN: Right. He's a serving three-star general. So what do you want? A lateral move? Probably not. You know, one job could be running Afghanistan. But the general there now has another year to go. Central Command, which is a great job - there's another - there's a general in there now for quite some time. There's talk he could go back to - go to a university. There's talk he could go to the Hoover Institution...

MARTIN: But...

BOWMAN: ...Perhaps be a fellow. But at this point, we just don't know.

MARTIN: And at this point, he still is in the job, right? So he's just seeing these media reports trickle out. The White House says everything's fine, nothing to see here. The president still has confidence in him. But essentially, now he's like - he's a lame duck. I mean, when international partners look at H.R. McMaster, are they going to see someone who has the president's ear? Probably not.

BOWMAN: No, probably not. Clearly, he's on his way out. The only question is when. I was told a couple of weeks ago, expect him to go not next week but in the next month or two. So really the question is now - Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokesperson, put out a tweet last night saying, just spoke to the president and General H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports, they have a good working relationship. No changes at the National Security Council. But she said - didn't say there won't...

MARTIN: Right.

BOWMAN: ...Be any changes.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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