White House preparing for McMaster exit as early as next month

WASHINGTON — The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The move would be the latest in a long string of staff shakeups at the White House over the past year and comes after months of strained relations between the president and McMaster.

A leading candidate to become President Donald Trump's third national security adviser is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun, according to the officials.

Biegun, who currently serves as vice president of international governmental affairs for the Ford Motor Company, is no stranger to the White House. He served on the National Security Council staff from 2001 to 2003, including as a senior staffer for then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster
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National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster
Newly named National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster listens as U.S. President Donald Trump makes the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his new National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (L) at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Newly appointed National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster listens as U.S. President Donald Trump makes the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with his new National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster after making the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump departs the room after announcing his new National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (L) who receives a handshake from newly named chief of staff of the National Security Council Gen. Keith Kellogg (C) at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with his new National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster after making the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (C) and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (L) attend a joint news conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster delivers a statement to reporters at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster (L) arrives with Press Secretary Sean Spicer (R) to speak to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (2nd R) looks on as Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Marillyn Hewson (L) exchanges agreements with a Saudi official after a signing ceremony between Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. Also pictured are White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster (L), chief economic advisor Gary Cohn (3rd R) and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R). REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as they depart for a day trip to Miami from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump eats Belgian chocolate flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and National security adviser H.R. McMaster react as they eat Belgian chocolate during their meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster joins White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (unseen) for the daily briefing, to address sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro , at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Rice introduced Biegun to Mattis, recommending him for a position in the administration, according to a close associate of Rice. After Mattis met with Biegun at a think tank event he was convinced Biegun would be a good fit for the national security adviser role, the associate said.

Two people close to Biegun said he would need several weeks to get his financial affairs in order to be able to join the administration this spring.

Mr. Biegun did not respond himself to a request for comment, but Ford Motor Company spokesperson Christin Baker said, "Steve has no plans to leave Ford."

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

McMaster joined the White House last year to replace Michael Flynn, who resigned after just 24 days in office amid revelations that he had lied to Vice President Pence about his dealings with Russian officials. Flynn, who was a target of the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign and potential ties to Russia, has since pleaded guilty to perjury and is cooperating with the special counsel.

McMaster had no ties to the Trump campaign and was serving as director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center in Virginia when he was named national security adviser on Feb. 20, 2017, choosing to remain an active duty Army lieutenant general rather than retire from military service.

But his tenure has been rocky. There have been staff shake-ups, questions about McMaster's decision to voice political positions while still in uniform, and public disagreements with Trump.

Most recently, McMaster told a forum in Germany that Russian meddling in the election was "incontrovertible," a comment that drew a quick rebuke from the president.

"General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems," Trump wrote on Twitter.

McMaster is a widely respected military general with a storied career.

As an Army major, he turned his Ph.D. dissertation into a best-selling book that became mandatory reading inside the halls of the Pentagon and on military bases around the world. "Dereliction of Duty" held military leaders responsible for the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, arguing that they quietly acquiesced to the demands of President Lyndon S. Johnson rather than providing their best counsel.

He earned a Silver Star as a tank commander during the Gulf War. During McMaster's promotion to lieutenant general, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno called him "the rarest of soldiers," admiring his ability to repeatedly "buck the system and survive to join its senior ranks."

McMaster took over command of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in 2012 and was planning to retire last summer until he got a surprise call from the White House in February 2017.

Now, a year later, a source close to Mattis said the Pentagon chief assured Kelly that he would offer McMaster a graceful landing, either another three-star job in the Army or even a promotion to a four-star general.

Defense officials would not speculate on what job McMaster could take in the Army, but two possible options are taking over for Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Forces Korea or becoming the first commander of the new U.S. Army Future's Command, which will focus on modernizing the force.

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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration
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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks reportedly announced her resignation after testifying about her job and being required to tell "white lies."

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

H.R. McMaster was replaced by John Bolton as national security advisor in March 2018.

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn announced his resignation in March 2018 after becoming a key architect of the 2017 tax overhaul 

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Sally Yates was fired from her post as acting attorney general when she refused to enforce President Trump's travel ban. 

(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russian officials. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

President Trump announced David Shulkin was out as secretary of veterans affairs by sending a tweet announcing he had nominated his personal physican, Ronny Jackson, to replace him on March 28, 2018.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trump fired Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh amid White House leaks in April.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files)

President Trump fired U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara in March.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in early May.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Dubke resigned as White House communications director in late May.

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

Walter Shaub, former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics in Washington, DC resigned in July.

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

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned in July.

(June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus resigned in July.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Former advisor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon resigned in August.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director was fired in July after just 10 days on the job. 

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

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in late September. 

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

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter arrives with U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. February 5, 2018. Picture taken February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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