Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) expressed optimism about Wednesday’s shake-up at the National Security Council and said he thought it’s “possible” Steve Bannon’s removal was connected to NSC staffers’ role in selectively supplying intelligence reports to House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA).
“I’m hoping that the shake-up we’re seeing, with McMaster taking more control of the National Security Council, will result in a more coherent policy before we have too many more crises at our doorstep,” the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on MSNBC while discussing the Trump administration’s recent statements on Syria.
In the shake-up, Bannon was removed from his role on the NSC’s Principals Committee, while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was given more control over the agenda at NSC meetings.
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Schiff if the changes at the NSC may have been linked to its staffers’ reported role in providing Nunes with intelligence reports in which he claimed the names of Trump transition staffers were inappropriately unmasked.
“I don’t know. It’s certainly possible that Gen. McMaster was less than pleased by Ezra Cohen’s reported role in the production of these materials that were then given to the chairman,” Schiff replied, referring to reports that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the NSC, helped provide the reports to Nunes.
The California Democrat cited a report that McMaster had wanted to fire Cohen-Watnick, prompting Bannon and Jared Kushner to intervene to keep him in that post.
“This is someone that reportedly McMaster had wanted to fire. McMaster was supposed to have control over the hiring and firing within the NSC, but again, reportedly—and only the White House can answer—it took Bannon and Kushner’s intervention to keep Ezra Cohen in that role,” Schiff said on MSNBC. “Maybe this is part of the fallout from that. I don’t know, only the White House can really answer that question.”
Cohen-Watnick will stay in his role at the NSC, according to Politico’s Ken Vogel.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the Nunes intel source who McMaster tried (but failed) to sideline, will remain as NSC intel director, source tells me.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) April 5, 2017
Schiff released a statement on the NSC shake-up later on Wednesday saying that the council had been “politicized” by Bannon’s inclusion:
Steve Bannon’s departure from the National Security Council’s Principals Committee is a positive step by General McMaster to gain control over a body that was being politicized by Bannon’s involvement. As the Administration’s policy over North Korea, China, Russia and Syria continues to drift, we can only hope this shakeup brings some level of strategic vision to the body.
Lacking a strong background in national security and with a long history of peddling racist and inflammatory conspiracy theories, Bannon should have never been placed on the Principals Committee to begin with, let alone given any role in the White House.