Trump national security aide K.T. McFarland may become envoy to Singapore

Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland at a swearing-in ceremony on March 2.
Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland at a swearing-in ceremony on March 2.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, a former Fox News commentator appointed by President Donald Trump, is expected to leave that position soon and may be nominated to be the US ambassador to Singapore, according to officials briefed on the matter.

McFarland’s departure had been seen as likely since the forced resignation of Michael Flynn, the retired three-star general who was Trump’s first national security adviser. 
Flynn’s successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has been moving to put a more traditionally professional stamp on the operations of the National Security Council (NSC).

Last week, Trump signed an order restructuring the council’s “principals committee” along more traditional lines than the version he had initially put in place. It removed Steve Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist and a former chairman of the conservative website Breitbart, while adding several officials Trump’s original order had left off, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the directors of national intelligence and the CIA.

Administration officials briefed on the matter confirmed that McFarland was stepping down but said her departure would not be immediate and she was expected to be at work on Monday (April 10). The officials also said that her possible nomination for the ambassadorship to Singapore, while likely, had not yet been finalised.

CNN reported on April 1 that McFarland was being offered the diplomatic post in Singapore, and Bloomberg News reported on Sunday that she had been asked to step down.

McFarland’s style had grated against some of the professional staff members on the National Security Council, which sees itself as apolitical. For example, while addressing the staff at a meeting after Flynn’s ouster, McFarland noted that she was wearing shoes from Ivanka Trump’s brand, according to an official who was present.

At an earlier meeting about two weeks into the administration, McFarland invoked Trump’s campaign slogan, telling the assembled group of career staff members, most of whom had been in the same roles during the Obama administration, that they needed to “make America great again.” 

It was not clear whether Dina Powell, whom McMaster brought in as deputy national security adviser for strategy, would succeed McFarland as the principal deputy. The official in that role leads inter-agency “deputies committee” meetings in the Situation Room involving the No. 2 officials from national security agencies and government departments.

Powell, an assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs in the Bush administration, is fluent in Arabic and was previously president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. She was the only woman in the widely distributed photograph of Trump and his aides receiving a briefing about the recent airstrike on Syria at his resort in Florida. An official said McFarland participated in that meeting from Washington via secure video conference.

McFarland, 65, worked as an aide on the National Security Council in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and served as a Pentagon speechwriter and spokeswoman in the Reagan administration. In more recent years, she was known for her criticism on Fox News of President Barack Obama’s handling of national security policy.

In September 2014, for example, after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) swept out of Syria to conquer swaths of Iraq and killing two kidnapped Americans, she said on Fox News that Obama was guilty of “dereliction of duty” because he “was playing a lot of golf this summer, but he was clearly not attending to the defence of the United States.”

At the same meeting where McFarland told staff members to “make America great again,” Flynn talked to them about using their time at the council to gain experience that would help them in other parts of the government. He then asked the crowd for a show of hands to see how many expected to be working at the White House in a year.

Flynn, according to people present, then turned to McFarland and, in an apparent self-deprecating joke, said, “I wonder if we’ll be here a year from now.”