Former NSC adviser who helped Trump and Nunes baselessly accuse Obama of 'wire tapping' is back at the Pentagon
During Donald Trump’s presidency, Ezra Cohen-Watnick has served in different parts of his administration. And on Monday, Pentagon officials announced that Cohen-Watnick has a new position: deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats.
The 34-year-old Cohen-Watnick first appeared in Trump’s administration in early 2017, when Michael Flynn was briefly serving as national security adviser. But after H.R. McMaster took over that position, Cohen-Watnick and McMaster did not get along — and Cohen-Watnick was forced out.
New York Times reporter Helen Cooper notes that Cohen-Watnick “was swept up in the tumult of early 2017, when Mr. Trump accused the Obama Administration, without evidence, of wiretapping his phones at Trump Tower.” That conspiracy theory, Cooper points out, was “bolstered by Rep. Devin Nunes of California, then the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who said he had evidence that Mr. Trump’s communications were incidentally swept up in surveillance of foreigners by American spy agencies.”
When Nunes was serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the people Cohen-Watnick worked with was Michael Ellis (who went on to become senior director of intelligence on the National Security Council). Cohen-Watnick and Ellis were two people alleged to have given intelligence reports to Nunes claiming to show that former members of the Obama Administration had improperly “unmasked” members of the Trump transition team. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, later said that the “unmasking” narrative was “all created by Devin Nunes.”
In Bloomberg News, journalists Jennifer Jacobs and Anthony Capaccio noted that Cohen-Watnick was “the subject of reports he had helped then-House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes obtain classified documents revealing that members of the Obama Administration had sought the identities of Trump campaign officials and associates inadvertently caught on government intercepts in a process known as ‘unmasking.’” However, Jacobs and Capaccio also note that Mark Zaid (Cohen-Watnick’s former attorney) “said that reports of his involvement in the Nunes incident were erroneous, and that he hadn’t personally shown the documents to Nunes or met the congressman. Nunes also publicly denied it was Cohen.”
Cohen-Watnick reappeared in the Trump Administration in April 2018, when he became a national security adviser to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump’s relationship with Sessions went from bad to worse in 2018: Trump was furious with Sessions for recusing himself from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and Cohen-Watnick attended law school after Trump fired Sessions in November 2018
Cohen-Watnick worked in the federal government prior to the Trump Administration. From 2010 to 2014 — back when Barack Obama was president — Cohen-Watnick worked in the U.S. Department of Defense at United States Southern Command, where he focused on drug trafficking, money laundering and other problems.