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H.R. McMaster: A Shift To Donald Trump Critic?

The following was a rushed transcript from an MSNBC segment featuring former national security adviser H.R. McMaster (see the video above).

While H.R. still gives credit to Trump for several key national security achievements, such as taking on China, for example, the former NSA seems to be moving away from what he declared would be a non0political and more analytical focus in his work after leaving government, stating such aspirations in his recent book very clearly.

That seems to have already ended. Here is a clear example of his slow and steady shift towards becoming what could be a pretty powerful Trump critique. Check out the text below, as it is getting a good amount of attention and seems like a shift worth noting–and one he seems to push in several interviews.


HALLIE JACKSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I’m joined now by retired three-star Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who served as President Trump’s national security adviser until early 2018.

General, it’s great to see you on the show. It’s nice to see you again.

GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, FRM. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Hey, Hallie, it’s great to see you, too. Thanks for having me.

JACKSON:  Of course. You are, of course, the author of this new book, “Battlegrounds:  The Fight to Defend the Free World.” So let’s talk about defending the free world. We played a little bit of president’s comments.

Do you believe the Trump administration now, currently, is doing enough to counter Russia?

And in your experience in the White House, why do you think the president is reluctant to be more specific in his condemnations of Vladimir Putin?

MCMASTER:  Well, the first part of your question, yes, the administration is, I think, doing an excellent job across all the departments and agencies to learn those hard lessons from the disruption in the 2016 election.

And Hallie, the sustained campaign of political subversion against us, there are new organizations that have been formed. There’s an overall effort to help, first of all, protect election infrastructure. But then also to counter this sustained campaign.

Our cyber warriors are now less constrained than they were in the past, they’re more effective. And Hallie, there’s a big difference between the 2016 election and 2018’s election, as we’ve seen.

But this sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial is aided by any leader who doesn’t acknowledge it. This is why, I think, the president has to be much stronger in condemning this effort to really reduce (sic) our confidence in who we are as Americans.

You know, I don’t think the Russians really care, Hallie, who wins the election, as long as we doubt the result and as long as they’re able to continue to polarize us on contentious issues.

They spend about 80 percent of their effort dividing us further on issues of race, for example, and then also on gun control or immigration. And so we have to be cognizant of this. And we need our leaders to help pull the curtain back on it, not aid and abet Putin by, you know, not calling him out on it or talking about other nations are disrupting us, which they are. But Russia is the primary problem in this area.

JACKSON:  Let’s call a spade a spade, you’re talking about leaders who are not calling out Russia, that is President Trump. You’re talking about leaders who are trying to sow doubt in election integrity.

As you know, the president on the debate stage — and repeatedly — I still cover the White House for NBC News — has done that. And David Sanger of “The Times” makes the extraordinary argument that the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself, writing that, he, Donald Trump, is going beyond anything Vladimir Putin could have imagined.

So do you agree, sir, is the president right now perhaps the biggest threat to our election integrity?

MCMASTER:  I agree that he is aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts by not being direct about this. Right?

By not just calling out Putin for what he’s doing. Putin gets away with, I mean, literally murder or attempted murder with Navalny, as we have seen recently, because people don’t call him out on it.

So they are able to continue with this kind of fire hose of falsehood, to sow these conspiracy theories. And we just can’t be our own worst enemies. So what the president does, I think — and I described this in “Battlegrounds,” he conflates these three separate questions.

Is Russia meddling in the election or did they meddle in the 2016 election?

Heck, yes, of course, they did.

The second is did they care who won?

I think you can debate that. I think they were actually set up, like most people expected, for a Hillary Clinton victory and they had a whole disinformation campaign ready to go to say that the election was rigged. And that’s why Trump didn’t win the 2016 election.

And then, of course, the third question is, if they meddled, you know, did they have an effect on the result?

We’ll never know that but I think the president gets concerned with that third question, thinks that if he confronts Putin directly, you know, he’ll inadvertently draw his own election into question.

So that’s the confusion about this. We all agree on question one.

Are they meddling?

Yes. And they’re meddling because they want to diminish our confidence in our democratic principles, institutions and our processes.

JACKSON:  There is another national security issue that is the forefront of this presidential race and Americans’ minds that you would be dealing with if you were still in the White House here and that is the issue of white supremacy.

As you know, the president at the debate did not condemn the Proud Boys, a far right extremist group. He later tried to distance himself.

Are you satisfied with the way the president responded to that?

MCMASTER:  No, he missed a huge opportunity, right?

I mean, it should be super easy to condemn white supremacists. So I think that these extremists really gain traction, right, and they draw more people in because there’s a perception that they’re legitimate and not, you know, a fringe, you know, hate-filled movement.

And that’s what they ought to be characterized as. And I think we Americans who identify as Americans, who respect each other, regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, right, who are tolerant and who are proud that we live in a democracy, in which we all have a say in how we’re governed, our voices have to be loud and drown out these people who sow hatred and want to divide us and polarize us.

JACKSON:  The president later said that he doesn’t know, he said this yesterday when he was on the South Lawn, he doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are, he says you’ll have to give me a definition because I don’t really know who they are.

It has been well documented and well laid out that white supremacist groups, as you point out, have been a threat to this country, especially in the last couple of years.

If it’s true that the president doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are, isn’t that a national security failure?

MCMASTER:  Well, I hope he’s being briefed on a range of organizations that pose a threat to our society and our democracy, right?

These are groups on both extremes of the political spectrum. But in this case, you know, white supremacists, who create hatred and foment hatred of their fellow Americans. That creates oftentimes an equal and opposite reaction on another end of the spectrum.

This is what’s tearing us apart, Hallie, these centrifugal forces that we’re allowing to operate. So what we need to do is put a brake on this, come together as Americans, condemn these groups and then restore confidence.

This is almost like a perfect storm, Hallie. You have these extreme groups at the same time that the president and others are diminishing our confidence in our democratic process.

And what these groups draw power from is a sense that people are disenfranchised, that they don’t have a voice.

You do have a voice. You get to vote, you get a say in how you’re governed. And we ought to be thankful for that, grateful for that and protect that tremendous, you know, experiment we have in democracy and the radical idea of a revolution, right, that sovereignty is with the people.

JACKSON:  I only have a couple of minutes left and, unfortunately, a couple of the topics in your book I want to get to. But let me just put a button on this here because you were — I remember covering you after Charlottesville and what happened there.

And at the time, you came out and defended the president in a way, saying he had been, in your view, very clear about condemning white supremacy.

Do you still believe that?

MCMASTER:  Well, what I was talking about at the time is, remember, he had made that remark that seemed like to impart some moral equivalency on both sides. And then he corrected it.


MCMASTER:  And then (INAUDIBLE) right after that. So, no, I don’t think the president has done enough on this. I mean, I think he really needs to have a much stronger voice on it. It should be easy to do.

And it could be, you know, that kind of a condemnation, I think, would help bring us together and then also help relegate these extremists, you know, to the small island that they should be on.

They should not be considered in any form, you know, a part — an accepted part of our society.

JACKSON:  Let me ask you about this “New York Times” reporting that has come out since your book has been published. It says the president is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt. There has been some discussion about whether that is a national security threat.

What is your view?

MCMASTER:  I just read what you’re reading on this, Hallie. I have not seen any of the documents themselves or anything like that.

But you know, what Russia does for sure, though, is they try to get dirt on anybody. And what I write about in “Battlegrounds” is how they played both the Republican Party and the Trump campaign. But they also played the Democratic Party. And you know, one of the lessons in “Battlegrounds” is don’t be our own worst enemy. Right?

Don’t be our own worst enemy and sometimes — and the theme that I introduce in the book is that, when it’s politically expedient to do so, both parties in 2016 gave space to the Kremlin, that Putin and the Kremlin didn’t deserve.

So we have to transcend this partisan, this vitriolic partisan environment we’re in now. It’s making us very vulnerable, vulnerable internally to these extremist groups, like these white supremacist groups, and vulnerable externally to these malign actors, especially the Kremlin and Putin’s, you know, sustained campaign of disinformation.

JACKSON:  We are up against a commercial break here. But I have to ask because, in the book, you acknowledge, actually, that this is not the tell-all that some people wanted, it’s different than other books that we’ve seen, for example, from former administration officials.

But I have to ask you, at some point, does your silence about your personal opinion on whether the president is fit for a second term, does that not start to send a message of its own?

MCMASTER:  No. I think the message is — what I hope the message is, is that we all have to transcend this. We have to come back together as Americans, because, as we’re at each other’s throats, these crucial challenges to our security and our future that I write about in “Battlegrounds,” they’re not going away.

They’re not going away.

And you know, when is the last time you heard a real substantive discussion about any of these issues?

And so the purpose of the book is to help us come together, to understand what we can do to build a better future for generations to come.

JACKSON:  Former Trump administration national security adviser H.R. McMaster, General McMaster, thank you so much for being on the show. It’s great to have you on and I appreciate your time.

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive and serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree in International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization. Kazianis also has a background in defense journalism, having served as Editor-In-Chief at The Diplomat and Executive Editor for the National Interest.