In the moments after the story broke in the media that Donald Trump gave highly classified intel to Russian government representatives, Trump’s communications advisers were overheard screaming at each other in a meeting (link) while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster briefed the press – and lied. Here’s the thing: McMaster may have not legally had a choice.
When H.R. McMaster became the National Security Adviser this spring, he decided to remain an active duty military officer. Although it’s rarely been discussed by the media or the public, this means that as Commander in Chief, Donald Trump can order McMaster to do just about anything, so long as it’s legal. And while misrepresenting the contents of a newspaper article is unethical, it wouldn’t be illegal. If he refused to comply, he could face court martial over it. So it’s worth pointing out that, even as Trump’s Press Secretary and Deputy Press Secretary hid in a meeting room, the one person who went out and lied to the media on Trump’s behalf was the one person on Trump’s senior staff who literally could not have said no to him.
As we reported earlier, McMaster’s lie to the media was a rather transparent one. He falsely accused the original Washington Post story of making assertions that it didn’t make, just so he could deny those imaginary assertions, thus allowing him to distract from what actually happened (link). It was a prepared statement that lasted less than a minute, and for all we know, Trump himself may have written it.
It evokes the plausible scenario of Donald Trump running roughshod around the White House, trying to goad his various advisers into going out and lying to the media on his behalf, and everyone refusing or hiding – until he encountered General McMaster, to whom he gave a direct order. And so when McMaster is inevitably called to testify in this scandal, the first question needs to be whether he was ordered to lie to the media by his Commander in Chief.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report