Kelly, McMaster may leave over tensions with Trump: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Longstanding friction between U.S. President Donald Trump and two top aides, the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff, has grown to a point that either or both might quit soon, four senior administration officials said.

Both H.R. McMaster and John Kelly are military men considered by U.S. political observers as moderating influences on the president by imposing a routine on the White House. They have also convinced Trump of the importance of international alliances, particularly NATO, which he has criticized as not equally sharing its burdens with the United States.

However, all the officials were quick to add that the tensions could blow over, at least for now, as have previous episodes of discord between the president and other top officials who have fallen out of favor, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Asked about sources saying that either National Security Adviser McMaster or Chief of Staff Kelly, or both, might be leaving, White House spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday did not address the possibility. He said, "the president has full confidence in each member of the team." Press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump "still has confidence in General McMaster."

RELATED: Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle

28 PHOTOS
Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
See Gallery
Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
Hope Hicks: Former White House Director of Strategic Communications
Melania Trump: Wife to President Trump and first lady of the United States
Gary Cohn: Former Director of the U.S. National Economic Council
Michael Flynn: Former National Security Advisor, no longer with the Trump administration
Ivanka Trump: First daughter and presidential adviser
Gen. John Kelly: Former Secretary of Homeland Security, current White House chief of staff
Steve Bannon: Former White House chief strategist, no longer with the Trump administration
Jared Kushner: Son-in-law and senior adviser
Kellyanne Conway: Former Trump campaign manager, current counselor to the president
Reince Priebus: Former White House chief of staff, no longer with the Trump administration
Anthony Scaramucci: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: White House press secretary
Donald Trump Jr.: First son to President Trump
Sean Spicer: Former White House press secretary, soon to be no longer with the Trump administration
Jeff Sessions: U.S. attorney general
Steve Mnuchin: Secretary of Treasury
Paul Manafort: Former Trump campaign chairman
Carter Page: Former foreign policy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign
Omarosa Manigault: Former Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison
Jason Miller: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Mike Dubke: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Stephen Miller: Trump senior policy adviser
Corey Lewandowski: Former Trump campaign manager
Eric Trump: Son to President Trump
Rex Tillerson: Former Secretary of State
Sebastian Gorka: Former deputy assistant to the president in the Trump administration, no longer in his White House role
Roger Stone: Former Trump campaign adviser, current host of Stone Cold Truth
Betsy DeVos: U.S. Education Secretary
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Neither Kelly nor McMaster responded to requests for comment on whether they would remain in the administration.

Trump swatted McMaster in a Twitter post after his comments at a European conference last weekend that he was certain Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, which Trump has been reluctant to acknowledge.

Kelly and McMaster have chafed at Trump's treatment of them in public and in private, which both at times have considered insulting, said all four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The current and most potent irritant, they said, is Kelly's effort, supported by McMaster, to prevent administration officials who have been unable to obtain permanent high-level security clearances from having access to the government's most closely held secrets.

Under pressure to act last week, Kelly strengthened the security clearance process in response to a scandal involving Rob Porter, a former official accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. Staffers whose interim clearances have been pending since June would have them revoked on Friday.

That would bar Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner from reading the president's daily intelligence brief, which often contains information on covert operations and intelligence collected from spy satellites, spies, and close U.S. allies.

"There have been running battles between Trump and his generals," said one of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Kelly is a retired Marine general and McMaster an Army lieutenant general.

"But the clearance business is personal, and if Trump sets special rules for family members, I'm not sure if Kelly and McMaster would salute," the official said.

White House officials were working to find a compromise that would allow Kushner to continue his work as a senior adviser to Trump, another source familiar with the situation said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House matters.

Under current law and regulation, the president has authority to grant any level of clearance to anyone he chooses, but officials wanted to avoid that option, this official said. There was no sense that Kushner would be leaving his job.

Kelly declined to comment on anybody's specific security clearance. He said in a statement that he had told Kushner days ago that he had "full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio."

Kelly said those duties include overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of the U.S. relationship with Mexico.

McMaster's support for Kelly on the security clearance issue is only his latest difference with Trump. Officials in the Defense Department said there have been discussions about him returning to the Army, possibly as head of the Forces Command at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. McMaster, 55, previously served as deputy commander there.Although he has been supportive of Trump on many issues, including threatening North Korea with military action, McMaster has taken a harder stance on Russia than his boss.

RELATED: GQ lists the 50 most powerful people in Trump's DC

50 PHOTOS
GQ lists the 50 most powerful people in Trump's DC
See Gallery
GQ lists the 50 most powerful people in Trump's DC

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Special Counsel Robert Mueller - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt - Surreptitious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly - Precarious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Corry Bliss, Head of the Congressional Leadership Fund - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chairman of the Freedom Caucus - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.​​​​​​​

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor for Policy Stephen Miller - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US Defence Minister James Mattis - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Fox & Friends - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer - Surreptitious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

Journalist Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for the New York Times - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images)

U.S. Justice Anthony Kennedy - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Billionaire Rebekah Mercer - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager and a prominent Democratic fundraiser - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Rachel Maddow - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Google Vice President of Public Policy Susan Molinari - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon - Precarious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House personnel director Johnny DeStefano - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Not pictured) Chris Ruddy, C.E.O. of Newsmax - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

Pictured: Chief Washington Correspondent, Newsmax, George Polk Award Winner Ronald Kessler speaks during CNN's Media Conference For The Election of the President 2008 at the Time Warner Center on October 14, 2008 in New York City. 16950_5054.JPG (Photo by Joe Kohen/WireImage)

CNN's Jake Tapper - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former U.S. President Barack Obama - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo - Precious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Indivisible Founders Leah Greenberg & Ezra Levin - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

GOP lobbyist Juleanna Glover - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Fortune)

Federalist Society President Leonard A. Leo (right) - Surreptitious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

(Not pictured) Wayne Berman, Businessman - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Russian President Vladimir Putin - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

President of EMILY's List Stephanie Schriock - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Scott Audette

White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Files

Pod Save America - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon)

U.S. Senator Susan Collins - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Joel Page

Jesse Watters host of 'The Five' - Ascendant Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Alexander Ovechkin - Surreptitious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Emerson Collective Founder and President Laurene Powell Jobs - Ascendant Power 

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Managing Director Mickael Damelincourt - Surreptitious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

José Andrés, Restaurateur - Enduring Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

(Photo by Joseph Victor Stefanchik for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen - Precarious Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.​​​​​​​

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

"The myriad ghosts of Trump's political past" - Perplexing Power

Click here to read GQ's full piece.

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

After U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians, a Russian propaganda arm and two other firms on Feb. 16 with tampering in the election to boost Trump, McMaster said the evidence of Moscow's meddling was "incontrovertible."

Trump publicly chastised McMaster in a Twitter post, saying McMaster "forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted by the Russians."

(Reporting by John Walcott; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.