National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.
Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz — who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs — McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.
A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.
Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted.
“Actual participants in the dinner deny that General McMaster made any of the comments attributed to him by anonymous sources. Those false comments represent the diametric opposite of General McMaster's actual views,” said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Oracle's top DC operative, who attended the dinner with Catz, also denied that McMaster made the comments his boss later recounted to others. The meeting, Oracle senior VP for government affairs Ken Glueck said, was about China, and “none of the statements attributed to General McMaster were said.” Glueck added that Catz “concurs entirely” with his account of the dinner.
Glueck responded to repeated inquiries only after BuzzFeed News contacted the NSC. And according to two sources with knowledge of the situation, administration officials threatened to retaliate against several figures with knowledge of the July dinner if they spoke to BuzzFeed News. Asked whether he had made his statement under pressure from the administration, Glueck responded, “ridiculous.”
Along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, McMaster — a three-star general — is often seen as a moderating influence on the president and a steadying hand in an administration staffed with political newcomers and anti-establishment bomb-throwers. Because of their perceived influence over the president, both men and in particular McMaster are widely distrusted by Trump’s base and some loyalist aides and former staffers, and have been the perceived target of attacks in the press.
McMaster’s allegedly dismissive comments are the latest suggestion that at least some of Trump’s senior-most aides see their jobs as containing a president who isn’t up to the task. In October, NBC News and other outlets reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a “moron” in a July meeting at the Pentagon. Also in October, Republican Sen. Bob Corker told the New York Times that a group of senior administration officials have banded together to try to keep Trump under control.
News of the July dinner first surfaced in August, when Axios reported that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson decided to support a campaign alleging that McMaster was anti-Israel after speaking with Catz about her meeting with the national security adviser. That decision stemmed, multiple sources tell BuzzFeed News, from comments McMaster made to Catz praising President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and describing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as a major problem.
But these new details reveal that the subject matter of McMaster’s dinner with Catz, which sources tell BuzzFeed News took place on July 18 at the Washington, DC, restaurant Tosca, ranged far from geopolitics. Indeed, three of the sources said that McMaster disparaged multiple members of the administration to Catz, including Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Of Kushner, one source told BuzzFeed News, McMaster said he had no business being in the White House and should not be involved in national security issues.
“[Catz] said the conversation was so inappropriate that it was jaw-dropping,” another source told BuzzFeed News.
The Israel-born Catz served on the executive committee of then-President-elect Trump’s transition team, and has been floated for numerous posts in the Trump administration, including US trade representative, director of national intelligence, and co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
While Catz hasn’t wound up in any of these jobs, Oracle has stayed closer to the Trump administration than many of the other high-profile tech giants. The company has a major presence in the nation’s capital, disclosing nearly $10 million in lobbying expenditures so far in 2017, more than Facebook.
Catz attended the July dinner at the F Street lobbyist hotspot with Glueck, who Recode described as one of the most powerful political operatives in Silicon Valley.
Catz, who has donated widely to both Republicans and Democrats, and McMaster, who has long been a target of the pro-Trump media and the nationalist wing of the administration for his mainstream positions on foreign policy and his purge of staffers hired by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, are both establishment figures. And yet, according to sources, Catz was so alarmed by the tenor of McMaster’s comments about President Trump and Israel that she confided her concerns to several administration officials, as well as Adelson.