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McMaster: National security team ‘not missing a beat’ because of Trump controversies

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster in early November. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, said Sunday that the administration's controversies — including his predecessor’s guilty plea and rumors of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s departure — aren’t affecting its ability to work with U.S. allies on key issues.

McMaster was pressed during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” about those and other flare-ups, including Trump’s recent retweeting of anti-Muslim videos from a leader of a far-right British group that riled that nation. And McMaster also made a case for keeping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in check, saying other nations in the region could otherwise feel compelled to pursue nuclear weapons as well.

“I don't think our allies need any reassurance,” McMaster told host Chris Wallace when asked whether he had been in contact with other countries to reassure them that Trump is firmly in charge and that his presidency is not in trouble.

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McMaster’s comments came after former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with a Russian official.

McMaster said that development has not affected the work of the president’s national security team, which he said “is not missing a beat.”

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Dec. 2 that North Korea's nuclear efforts were the "greatest immediate threat" to the U.S. (Video: Reuters)

He also said he has not heard anything that would confirm reports that White House officials are working on a plan to replace Tillerson in coming weeks — which both Trump and Tillerson have denied.

“Yeah, I'm not aware of any plan at all,” McMaster said. “What I'm aware of is that the secretary of state is traveling today to advance and protect our interests.”

Asked whether the reports are harmful to allies, who might wonder whether Tillerson has Trump’s confidence, McMaster said, “It’s harmful if we let it be harmful.”

“You know, I think it was Aristotle who said, ‘Focus on what you can control, and you can get a lot done,’ ” he said.

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McMaster was more circumspect when asked why Trump had retweeted the inflammatory videos originally posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, which bills itself as a political party but has been widely condemned as an extremist group that targets mosques and Muslims.

“Well, President Trump is the best judge of why he did that, but I know it was his intention to highlight the importance of creating safe and secure environments for our citizens — to make sure that we have the right laws in place, enforcement mechanisms in place,” McMaster said.

The national security adviser also said that allowing North Korea to build a nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the United States “would be the most destabilizing development, I think, in the post-World War II period, and it is something that places us at direct risk, but places the world at risk.”

Asked by Wallace why the United States could not exist in a state of mutual assured destruction with North Korea, McMaster argued that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is too unstable.

“Well, Chris, I don't think you or anybody else is willing to bet the farm, or a U.S. city, on the decision-making — rational decision-making — of Kim Jong Un,” McMaster said.

He also noted that North Korea's nuclear actions could prompt others in the region, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, to abandon their nuclear-free status.

Scenes from Trump’s second six months in office

Police officers applaud a line by U.S. President Donald Trump (R) as he delivers remarks about his proposed U.S. government effort against the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, to a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials at the Long Island University campus in Brentwood, New York, U.S. July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)