- President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Justice to hire a national security official, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was ousted from his White House last year.
- Cohen-Watnick drew public scrutiny when it was revealed last year that he briefed Rep. Devin Nunes on classified intelligence concerning the Obama administration’s incidental surveillance of Trump transition officials.
- At DOJ, the young and relatively inexperienced staffer will hold an influential position, advising Attorney General Jeff Sessions on counterintelligence and counterterrorism.
When former national security adviser H.R. McMaster took over from his ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn, he cleaned house, removing a host of top officials who served under Flynn’s brief and controversial leadership.
It took McMaster nearly six months to get rid of one particular aide, 31-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom Flynn brought on to serve as the president’s senior director for intelligence programs. Cohen-Watnick was protected by top White House adviser Jared Kushner and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Last August, McMaster finally managed to oust the young staffer, who went on to work for the national security company Oracle.
But Cohen-Watnick has resurfaced and will become a national security adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to reporting by multiple news outlets on Wednesday. White House aides told Bloomberg that the president ordered the move.
Cohen-Watnick drew public scrutiny when it was revealed last year that he and another White House aide briefed Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on classified intelligence briefings showing the government’s incidental surveillance of the Trump transition team.
“The Nunes scandal cemented Cohen-Watnick’s reputation as a loyalist and as someone who could withstand the heat of public controversy,” The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray wrote in a July 2017 profile of him.
Nunes used the information to support Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the election. The congressman was soon forced to recuse himself from the politically polarized inquiry, which later fell apart.
A military and intelligence hawk, Cohen-Watnick has advocated for expanding US involvement against Iran-backed militias in Syria and for more aggressive intelligence operations in Russia and China.
But overall, not much is known about the policies of Cohen-Watnick, who served for several years as an intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
“Few higher-ups from the DIA remember him,” Gray wrote.
Doug Wise, formerly Flynn’s top deputy at the DIA, told The Atlantic last year that it was “noteworthy that someone with very limited experience is appointed to such a senior and critical position.”