WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - US President Donald Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements, according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration.
Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up, these people said.
Separately, Bloomberg reported Trump has not made a final decision on removing McMaster, citing a White House official.
The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.
For all of the evident disorder, Trump feels emboldened, advisers said - buoyed by what he views as triumphant decisions last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and to agree to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.
Just days ago, Trump used Twitter to fire Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state whom he disliked, and moved to install his close ally, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in the job. On Wednesday, he named conservative TV analyst Larry Kudlow to replace his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who quit over trade disagreements.
And on Thursday, Trump signaled that more personnel moves were likely. "There will always be change," the president told reporters. "And I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas." This portrait of the Trump administration in turmoil is based on interviews with 19 presidential advisers and administration officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid perspectives.
The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally.
But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce - openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. Some White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next, though few, if any, have much reliable information about what is actually going on.
Many aides were particularly unsettled by the firing of the president's longtime personal aide, John McEntee, who was marched out of the White House on Tuesday after his security clearance was abruptly revoked.
"Everybody fears the perp walk," one senior White House official said. "If it could happen to Johnny, the president's body guy, it could happen to anybody."
Trump recently told White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that he wants McMaster out and asked for help weighing replacement options, according to two people familiar with their conversations. The president has complained that McMaster is too rigid and that his briefings go on too long and seem irrelevant.
Several candidates have emerged as possible McMaster replacements, including John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, and Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff of the National Security Council.
Kellogg travels with Trump on many domestic trips, in part because the president likes his company and thinks he is fun. Bolton has met with Trump several times and often agrees with the president's instincts. Trump also thinks Bolton, who regularly praises the president on Fox News Channel, is good on television.
Some in the White House have been reluctant to oust McMaster from his national security perch until he has a promotion to four-star rank or other comfortable landing spot. They are eager to show that someone can serve in the Trump administration without suffering severe damage to their reputation.
McMaster is not the only senior official on thin ice with the president. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has attracted Trump's ire for his spending decisions as well as for general disorder in the senior leadership of his agency.
Others considered at risk for being fired or reprimanded include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who has generated bad headlines for ordering a US$31,000 dining room set for his office; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been under fire for his first-class travel at taxpayer expense; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose agency spent US$139,000 to renovate his office doors.