Right-wing media and Russian bots unite to target Trump’s national security adviser

H.R. McMaster has started to clean house at the National Security Council — and Trump trolls have taken notice

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published August 4, 2017 4:35PM (EDT)

H.R. McMaster   (AP/Evan Vucci)
H.R. McMaster (AP/Evan Vucci)

All of the president’s men may now be generals -- but that doesn’t mean that they’ve all been rewarded with the praise from Donald Trump’s base befitting loyal soldiers running into a losing battle. Following yet another week of drama surrounding high-profile staff shake-ups, the White House is now fending off an intraparty barrage of attacks against Trump’s top national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

The retired three-star Army lieutenant general, with the reported blessing of the newly installed chief of staff John Kelly (yet another retired general), dismissed several officials who joined the administration under another general -- Michael Flynn. Even as the White House appeared overcome by the resignations of two communications directors and a chief of staff in rapid succession, McMaster has carried out his months-long quest to clear Flynn’s baggage.

"McMaster basically has this list and over the next two weeks he's going to phase out" more senior officials loyal to Trump, an unnamed source told the conservative Free Beacon. "They're taking out people who were chosen to best implement the president's policy that he articulated during the campaign."

McMaster continued clearing house this week, firing top national security administration officials, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Rich Higgins, and Derek Harvey -- and exacerbating the already splintered White House.

The dismissals of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s controversial 31-year-old senior director for intelligence, particularly pissed off allies of Trump’s more nationalist policies in and out of the White House. McMaster had long sought to dismiss Cohen-Watnick, who clashed with some other members of the council, but was prevented after interventions by Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon.

It’s little surprise, then, that conservatives and Russian bots have taken notice of McMaster’s latest moves.

A critical Breitbart column was tweeted by Mike Cernovich, a leading figure in the alt-right movement who called McMaster “a Deep State Plant”:

Cernovich also set up a website this week called McMaster Leaks.

A day after news of Cohen-Watnick’s dismal broke, the Daily Caller ran an “exclusive” that cited unnamed former senior NSC officials who claimed, “Everything the president wants to do, McMaster opposes.” The right-wing website founded by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, interviewed a former Trump administration official who said: “the president isn’t a big fan of what McMaster’s doing.”

Also on Thursday, the newest Trump cheerleading right-wing website Circa published a leaked letter written earlier this year extending former national security adviser Susan Rice’s security clearance. President Barack Obama's final national security adviser has long been a target of right-wing media and conservatives in Congress.  

Retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor, who worked closely with McMaster, told Politico that "there is a split in the White House between the Bannon camp of ideologues and the McMaster-Mattis-Tillerson camp of more centrist intellectuals."

Most interestingly, attacks on McMaster from right-wing media figures coincide with a coordinate troll campaign, according to a newly launched website that tracks Russian propaganda. Using hashtags like #FireMcMaster and #deepstate, accounts linked to Russian-backed bot campaigns shared several anti-McMaster stories this week.  

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Donald Trump Ezra Cohen-watnick H.r. Mcmaster Trump Trolls