Kelly Is Said to Explore Moving McMaster Back to Military Role

(Bloomberg) -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly recently asked the Pentagon about options for a potential military position outside the White House for National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an army lieutenant general, according to a White House official, fueling speculation that McMaster will soon leave his current position.

The Defense Department is looking for an opening for him, with an eye toward a command in which he would receive a fourth star, a promotion from his three-star rank, said a former military official with knowledge of the Pentagon’s efforts.

McMaster has clashed with President Donald Trump during his tenure, most recently when Trump rebuked him last month on Twitter for neglecting to defend his 2016 victory while discussing U.S. claims that Russia meddled in the election.

The White House pushed back against an NBC report Thursday, citing five unnamed sources, that the Trump administration is preparing to replace McMaster as soon as next month in a move orchestrated by Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” White House spokesman Michael Anton said in email sent to reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”

Kelly was exasperated by the NBC report and is unaware of any McMaster move in the near term, particularly because Kelly was only asking about possibilities for McMaster with no set timeline, the White House official said. Both the White House official and the former military official requested anonymity to discuss the matter.

Replaced Flynn

McMaster joined the administration a year ago after Trump fired his predecessor, Michael Flynn, for lying to the vice president. He has traveled with Trump to several countries and helped craft the president’s national security approach to North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran and other global hot spots.

McMaster told an audience at the Munich Security Conference in February that Russia had engaged in a “‘sophisticated form of espionage” against the U.S. in a futile attempt at disruption. He referred to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s charges against 13 Russian nationals and a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm,” accused of seeking to interfere in the American presidential election in 2016.

Trump has dismissed investigations into Russian meddling in the election as a “witch hunt.”

In McMaster’s 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty,” he criticized military officers for failing to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson and then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara over their handling of the Vietnam War. He wrote that the U.S. lost that war in the political corridors of Washington, not the battlefield.

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