General John Kelly may be trying to institute military-style discipline in the West Wing, but that hasn’t put a stop to the civil war happening over President Donald Trump’s National Security Council. If anything, the dawning of the Kelly era may have accelerated that war.
The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has removed three NSC aides loyal to Trump aide Steve Bannon in the last three weeks. Bannon allies inside and outside the administration have fired back, starting rumors that McMaster is on his way out the door and documenting the Army general’s deviations from President Trump.
The latest move against Bannonites came Wednesday when McMaster fired the NSC’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick. McMaster’s previous attempt to remove Cohen-Watnick from the staff had been blocked by Bannon and Trump himself. A White House statement confirmed Cohen-Watnick’s removal, saying McMaster is “confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration.” The news was first reported by Jordan Schachtel, a former editor at Breitbart, which Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign last year.
This was not the first change. Last week, McMaster fired Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top Middle East adviser. Harvey was perceived as too close to Bannon by some White House aides, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis had disagreed with Harvey at times.
And another Bannon acolyte, Rich Higgins, was given the boot on July 21, as Rosie Gray at the Atlantic first reported on Wednesday. (This was before the arrival of Kelly as chief of staff.) Higgins, a former Pentagon aide, wrote and circulated a memo charging the “deep state,” “globalists,” and “bankers” with aligning with “Islamists” against the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, Bannon’s allies outside the White House are trying to put the squeeze on McMaster. On Wednesday, radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted a months-old article from the New York Times about McMaster’s “break with the administration on Islam.”
Meanwhile, blogger Mike Cernovich has been tweeting links to a website called McMasterLeaks, which contains a single blog post with multiple examples of how McMaster is undermining Trump. At the top of the page is a cartoon depicting McMaster (incorrectly labeled as “McMasters”) and David Petraeus as marionette puppets with strings controlled by liberal billionaire George Soros. In turn, Soros is depicted as a puppet controlled by a green, monstrous hand simply labeled “Rothschilds.”
Cernovich has not responded to a question about whether or not he runs the website.
For some time, Steve Bannon has been considering leaving the White House. One of Bannon’s closest buddies in the West Wing was Reince Priebus, now gone. A newly emboldened H.R. McMaster, purging Bannonites with the backing of John Kelly (and the president), could hasten his exit.
The president seems partial to McMaster. "Sometimes he drives me nuts," Trump said this week, according to a White House official. "But there's something about the guy I really like."