Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the White House staffer who reportedly helped funnel intelligence reports to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was at the heart of another, much more behind-the-scenes Trump administration drama, the Guardian reported Thursday.
A retired marine serving as the CIA’s liaison to the White House was summarily dismissed in mid-March, sources told the newspaper, after a clash with Cohen-Watnick, the 30-year-old intelligence director for the National Security Council.
“It was the most disrespectful thing they could have done,” an anonymous White House official aware of the incident told the Guardian, praising the professionalism of the former staffer, who has since returned to the CIA. “He’s a good man. What happened to him was fucked up.”
The liaison’s role involved briefing senior White House officials with top secret security clearances about covert operations, according to the report.
The CIA and White House did not provide the newspaper with comment.
Cohen-Watnick, a protégé of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, was reportedly almost fired himself amid an internal struggle for control over national security policy in Trump’s White House. Once Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster replaced Flynn, he allegedly tried to fire the young intelligence official but was overruled after Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, intervened.
Cohen-Watnick was later reported to be one of the sources who played a role in getting Nunes to the White House to view classified intelligence reports that Nunes claimed show the identities of members of Trump’s campaign staff were inappropriately unmasked. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who later viewed those same intelligence reports say the documents indicate no improper surveillance, and are instead standard intercepts of conversations that involve individuals targeted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.