Will McMaster be the First Big Fish to Quit?
Director of National Intelligence H. R. McMaster, who succeeded the disgraced, immunity-seeker Michael Flynn, has been strangely silent during the tragic comic-opera about the allegedly exculpatory intelligence brought to the president by Rep. Devin Nunes via what appears to be a three-cushion billiard shot from the White House itself.
Just as a reminder, McMaster, a three-star general, was clearly the most universally lauded and respected cabinet choice, honored for his leadership in Kuwait and Iraq and especially his willingness to speak truth to power. He wrote a book harshly critical of the military handling of the Vietnam War. Immediately after being hired he broke with Trump by saying that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting Islam, then announced that use of the term “radical Islamic terrorists” was especially unhelpful. (As Obama always said.)
McMaster was also guaranteed to right to name his own staff–something not offered to his predecessor nominees. That guarantee that was recently violated when he tried to fire an underling, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council. Watnick-Cohen’s job was saved through the efforts of son-in-law Jared Kushner and all-powerful guru Steve Bannon.
Here’s where the plot sickens. Cohen-Watnick is one of two (or possibly three) White House figures who summoned Nunes to view the classified intelligence that appeared to but did not actually give credence to Trump’s claims of having had his phone tapped or otherwise surveilled by the Obama Administration.
You will recall that Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, did not share the information with his members, but brought it first to Trump, then to the press–a thoroughly inappropriate series of moves that is still being condemned. Oh yes–he was a member of Trump’s transition team, to which he apparently owes first loyalty, rather than to his committee, whose work he effectively sabotaged. That was probably the plan behind that bizarre operation in the first place.
It appears that Cohen-Watnick, a Flynn loyalist, was kept on specifically to participate in the goofy plan to give Nunes the intelligence and then have him bring it back to Trump as a “revelation.” It further appears that McMaster was left out of the loop, though all intelligence from all federal agencies is supposed to flow through him for evaluation. Had it gone that way he likely would have laughed it off the page.
That’s why I wonder why he hasn’t weighed in on the mess. If he approved it, that might have given it credence because he is widely respected by all sides. He might easily have said “let’s just turn it over to the FBI and congressional committees that are investigating Russia and surveillance issues.” His silence speaks volumes.
It is likely he is mightily angered by the double insult–first keeping Cohen-Watnick and second letting this screwball scheme play itself out. If McMaster has not sunk into the swamp himself–not very likely–he may be waiting for the next insult to announce he has decided “to spend more time with his family.”
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
image muskie fishing on Lake McMaster, near Victoria, Illinois