On the first question, he said, “Heck yes, of course they did,” siding with the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence agencies. As national security adviser, Mr. McMaster shared that view, including during a speech at the Munich Security Conference, leading Mr. Trump to chide him on Twitter. His aide, the president noted, “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.” It was one of the issues that led Mr. Trump to begin to freeze him out, and to later replace him.
On the second question, Mr. McMaster said “you can debate” whether the Russians favored Mr. Trump in 2016. Like others, he said, the Russians expected Hillary Clinton to win, and “they had a whole disinformation campaign ready to go to say that the election was rigged.” Many believe that is what is happening now: that the Russians believe Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, will win, and that in an effort to diminish Mr. Biden’s influence if he takes office, they are amplifying Mr. Trump’s allegations that the election will be fraudulent.
And on the third question, whether the Russians influenced voters in 2016, “We’ll never know that,” Mr. McMaster said.
But Mr. Trump, he added, is focused on the third question and believes “that if he confronts Putin directly, you know,” he will “inadvertently draw his own election into question.”
Another prominent retired general who served under Mr. Trump has also been highly critical in recent months. The former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who often clashed with Mr. McMaster inside the White House, broke his silence after the president moved against protesters demonstrating after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he wrote in June. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”
John F. Kelly, who served as secretary of homeland security before becoming White House chief of staff, has also called into question the president’s judgment and character. But he declined to speak out when Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported that the president had privately referred to American soldiers who were killed in combat as “suckers” and “losers.” Mr. Kelly’s son, a Marine, was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan.