White House

Trump backs McMaster as critics, White House rivals question Rice authorization

President Trump gave H.R. McMaster a vote of confidence after the national security adviser's rivals seized on a letter McMaster sent to his Obama predecessor Susan Rice giving her continued access to classified information.

McMaster's letter, which his supporters said was routine, was apparently leaked to imply that the Army lieutenant general was helping Trump's enemies. McMaster's feud with other powerful camps inside the White House has been well-documented, and a recent spate of firings by McMaster appears to have ratcheted up tensions. But Trump issued a statement late Friday supporting McMaster.

"General McMaster and I are working very well together," the statement read. "He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country."

McMaster already had been in the spotlight for the series of firings he’s ordered on the National Security Council. Most recently, he ousted Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council who had been viewed as a Trump loyalist.

But Circa first reported Thursday that McMaster sent a letter giving Rice access to classified material, weeks after her alleged role was disclosed in ‘unmasking’ identities of Trump associates in intelligence reports.

Fox News was told by National Security Council sources, however, that the letter was a pro forma document similar to those sent to every living former national security adviser and former president – and that he was required to send it.

The NSC also told Fox News that extending Rice's security clearance doesn’t mean she gets to look at any classified information. It just means that she can be called back in (if necessary) to have conversations about classified information. 

But the fact he sent the letter to Rice – given the controversy surrounding her and the “unmasking” of members of the Trump campaign, transition and administration in intelligence documents – was not viewed favorably by members of the administration who aren’t particular fans of McMaster.

Cohen-Watnick, who was brought into the NSC by former national security adviser Mike Flynn, incidentally was at the center of the controversy over House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’s visit to the White House in March to look at intelligence reports about incidental surveillance of Trump officials during the presidential campaign.

His dismissal follows other recent changes at the NSC.

It was revealed on Wednesday in news reports that Rich Higgins, who served as director for strategic planning at the NSC, was fired July 21. Higgins had been an ally of senior White House adviser Steve Bannon.

And last week, Derek Harvey, a top Middle East adviser who served as special assistant to the president and senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council, was also relieved of his duties.

The changes at the NSC come as the White House has seen a number of other high-profile staff changes: chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned last week and was replaced by John Kelly; press secretary Sean Spicer resigned and was replaced by Sarah Sanders; and newly tapped communications director Anthony Scaramucci was forced out after just 11 days on the job.

Fox News’ John Roberts, Alex Pappas and Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.