Updated on August 5 at 11:51 a.m. ET
Long-simmering tensions within the White House burst into public view this week after the firings of three National Security Council officials, resulting in National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster becoming Public Enemy No. 1 of the pro-Trump online brigades.
McMaster has cleaned house at the NSC over the past few weeks. Via his deputy Ricky Waddell, he fired director of strategic planning Rich Higgins last month over a memo Higgins wrote alleging a deep-state conspiracy against President Trump. McMaster then dismissed two top officials brought on by the previous national-security adviser, Michael Flynn: the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, Derek Harvey, who was fired last week; and the senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was let go on Wednesday.
“I’m watching the elephants trample the grass as they fight each other,” said one senior White House official. “There is some collateral damage when the elephants fight.”
The dismissals have shaken up the NSC during a period of tumult in the White House. Press secretary Sean Spicer recently quit in protest of Anthony Scaramucci’s installation as communications director. Scaramucci was himself fired because of a profane rant he delivered to a reporter about White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was also let go. Priebus’s replacement, former Department of Homeland Security chief John Kelly, has begun to formalize the chaotic Trump White House, limiting staff members’ direct access to the president. His entrance also gives McMaster—who has been at odds with Trump and has battled in particular with Bannon—a powerful new ally.