It looks like the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was only the beginning as Trump, increasingly cornered and with investigations now closing in on his businesses, has now decided that everyone else in the White House and Cabinet has failed him and is now ruthlessly culling those around him.
President 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.
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.
And yes, Trump is considering replacing McMaster with John Bolton's Mustache, which would be a dead solid indicator of war coming with somebody before Mueller can complete his work. Mueller might not get to finish though if Trump goes full Saturday Night Massacre.
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 $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 $139,000 to renovate his office doors.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew attention this week when she stumbled through a pair of high-profile television interviews. Kelly watched DeVos’s sit-down with Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” with frustration and complained about the secretary’s apparent lack of preparation, officials said. Other Trump advisers mocked DeVos’s shaky appearance with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show.
Kelly’s own ouster has been widely speculated for weeks. But two top officials said Trump on Thursday morning expressed disbelief to Vice President Pence, senior advisers and Kelly himself that Kelly’s name was surfacing on media watch lists because his job is secure. Trump and Kelly then laughed about it, the officials said.
The widespread uncertainty has created power vacuums that could play to the advantage of some administration aides.
Pompeo, who carefully cultivated a personal relationship with the president, had positioned himself as the heir apparent to Tillerson, whom Trump had long disliked.
Similarly, Pruitt has made no secret inside the West Wing of his ambition to become attorney general should Trump decide to fire Jeff Sessions, who he frequently derides for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
White House officials have grown agitated that Pruitt and his allies are privately pushing for the EPA chief to replace Sessions, a job Pruitt has told people he wants. On Wednesday night, Kelly called Pruitt and told him the president was happy with his performance at EPA and that he did not need to worry about the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
At this point Trump does whatever he wants, advisers and Cabinet be damned, and everyone's going to pay the price. And I bet if Sessions won't fire Mueller, Scott Pruitt would in a heartbeat.