- Mark Wilson/Getty Images
One of the two White House aides who helped provide classified intelligence reports to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, according to a Thursday New York Times report, was told days earlier by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that he would be removed from his job on the National Security Council.
But President Donald Trump intervened to keep the aide, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, in place, according to a March 14 Politico report. Cohen-Watnick is the senior director for intelligence at the NSC.
McMaster decided after weeks of pressure from CIA officials who were unsure of the operative to move Cohen-Watnick to another job, according to Politico. Cohen-Watnick appealed the decision to White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, two men he became close with during the transition.
Bannon and Kushner then presented his case to Trump, who overruled McMaster, Politico reported.
Cohen-Watnick had worked for Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser whom McMaster replaced, when Flynn was in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
According to The Times, Cohen-Watnick began reviewing the highly classified reports shortly after Trump made his unfounded claim on Twitter in early March that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
A week after the Politico story was published, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, went on White House grounds to view the intelligence reports that he brought to the attention of the press and the president on March 22.
Nunes said the intelligence he was shown proved that information about members of Trump’s transition team, and possibly the president himself, was “incidentally collected” by the intelligence community on “numerous occasions” during the transition period. The intelligence showed that Trump was “monitored,” he said.
Nunes, who was a member of the transition team, added that he believed the intelligence was legally obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was not related to the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election – which, he said, made it fair to share with the president.
Nunes’ committee is also investigating Russia’s involvement in the election, and the chairman did not brief his fellow members on the intelligence reports before holding the press conference and meeting with the president.
- AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Trump said the information Nunes provided him “somewhat” vindicated his claim that he was surveilled by Obama’s administration.
Nunes’ first press conference on the intelligence came two days after FBI Director James Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee that the bureau was looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to affect the outcome of the election.
Several Democrats, and even a Republican legislator, have called on Nunes to recuse himself from the House committee’s investigation. Nunes has repeatedly insisted that the events of the past week were not part of a coordinated effort between himself and the White House.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday did not confirm or deny the Times report.
“We’re not as obsessed with the process as with the substance,” Spicer said during the press briefing.