'A good man, very pro-Israel': Trump defends McMaster from far-right snipers

Terse statement follows attacks from bloggers and Breitbart and firings of three White House officials known to be allies of senior adviser Steve Bannon

Donald Trump has come to the defense of his national security advisor, HR McMaster, in the face of a sustained attack on the army general from the far right.

The president put out a short statement on Friday night which described McMaster as a “good man”, and said they were “working very well together”. But by Trump’s standards it was a terse statement, unlikely to stem the flow of invective from the president’s own hardline supporters or resolve the factional conflict inside the White House.

Many of the attacks have come through the Breitbart News website, which was run until last August by Trump’s in-house ideologue, Stephen Bannon. Breitbart stories described McMaster as “increasingly volatile” and said he “frequent blows his top”. Another headline said he was “deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump”.

The Trump statement, provided to White House reporters on Friday night, said: “General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, often portrayed as a rival to McMaster in White House power struggles, also lent his support, telling the New York Times the general was “a true public servant and a tremendous asset”.

Breitbart’s report on Trump’s statement said the president had “defied his base” in defending his national security adviser, who it described as “globalist”, an insult from the point of view of the “alt-right”.

The anti-McMaster campaign was ignited by the firing of three White House officials known to be allies of Bannon and McMaster’s predecessor as national security advisor, retired general Michael Flynn.

The three sackings were Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the national security council (NSC) senior director for intelligence programmes; Derek Harvey, the NSC senior director for the Middle East; and Rich Higgins, the director for strategic planning.

Higgins was fired after circulating a memo, published by the Atlantic, that argued the Trump presidency was under attack from subversive forces including “globalists” and Islamists allied to “cultural Marxists” employing “Maoist tactics”.

McMaster also enraged the right by his assent to the renewal of a security clearance for Obama administration’s national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Mike Cernovich, a far-right blogger who promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton during the campaign, posted an antisemitic cartoon showing McMaster as a puppet having his strings pulled by George Soros, a liberal Jewish philanthropist, who was in turn being controlled by another hand labelled “Rothschilds”.

Twitter accounts linked to Russian propaganda operations were also pushing a #FireMcMaster slogan, and at one point it was the top hashtag among 600 pro-Kremlin accounts tracked by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which monitors Russian influence operations.

McMaster’s presence in the White House was put in doubt after press reports quoting unnamed presidential advisers said Trump might send McMaster to command US forces in Afghanistan, after the president reportedly criticised the serving commander, Gen John Nicholson, in a meeting last month.

But defense secretary James Mattis – like new chief of staff John F Kelly, a retired US marine corps general – and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, defended Nicholson and his job. McMaster also appears to be safe for the time being.


Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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