National Security

Ousted NSC official not yet working at the Justice Department

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Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former national security aide to President Trump, has not yet joined the Department of Justice (DOJ) despite reports that he was moving there last month to become a senior adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

A flurry of news reports said Cohen-Watnick “will” be joining the agency on April 16 as a national security adviser to Sessions. Yet a month later, he is still not employed at the DOJ, The Hill has learned.

“He is not a current employee,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores confirmed on Tuesday, declining to comment further on personnel issues. {mosads}

The statement comes a month after a DOJ spokesman confirmed to The Hill that Cohen-Watnick “is joining” the agency.

Bloomberg News reported last month that the president had personally ordered the Justice Department to hire Cohen-Watnick.

Mark Zaid, Cohen-Watnick’s attorney, said the delay is a result of “routine employment processing” and that they still believe he will be joining the DOJ. 

“He was scheduled to start working there,” Zaid told The Hill on Thursday, noting that the earlier articles were correct at the time.

“As far as we know, the delay is nothing more than routine employment processing — that we are simply waiting to be completed. And [we] have been told of nothing derogatory or problematic associated with his hiring,” he said.

Zaid said they have not received any indication that Cohen-Watnick will not get this position, and any suggestions that the offer got pulled or he wasn’t going to get it is “factually inaccurate.”

“My presumption, given my work in D.C., is that in light of everything that has happened in the administration, particularly in the White House with respect to hiring and retaining people, that they are just being extra sensitive before they bring Ezra on formally to start,” he continued, noting that they do not have any indication of timing on the matter.

Cohen-Watnick left the White House last year after he was reportedly involved in the controversy over the release of classified materials to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Nunes claimed, based off the materials he viewed, that the Obama administration had improperly “unmasked” — or revealed the identities of — Trump associates in intelligence reports. Nunes then publicly disclosed these findings, saying he’d received the information from a whistleblower.

Trump, who had accused then-President Obama of wiretapping his phones during his candidacy, said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by what Nunes found.

Cohen-Watnick had helped print the intelligence documents that Nunes later used as evidence in his claims at the direction of two top White House officials, The New York Times reported last month. Cohen-Watnick, however, did not directly provide the reports to the Republican lawmaker, according to the report.

The Times separately reported in March that there are “conflicting accounts” about the reason why Cohen-Watnick was looking into such intelligence matters. One source told the newspaper that it was to “justify Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts about wiretapping,” and another source said Cohen-Watnick had found the information while “reviewing how widely intelligence reports on intercepts were shared within the American spy agencies.”

Trump’s first White House national security adviser, Michael Flynn, brought on Cohen-Watnick as the senior director for intelligence for the National Security Council. Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, went on to oust Cohen-Watnick and several other Flynn-recruited aides as part of series of changes he made when he joined the administration, the Times reported.

Cohen-Watnick, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official, went on to work at Oracle after leaving the administration.

The episode with Nunes and the White House erupted into a controversy that ultimately led the Intel chairman to step aside temporarily from his committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Relations between Republicans and Democrats on the panel rapidly devolved after the accusations about Nunes’s contact with the White House surfaced.

Republicans on the committee made the unilateral decision in March to wrap up their yearlong probe into the FBI and Russia’s election interference. Democrats criticized the resulting report as a sham aimed at protecting the administration.

Updated at 6 p.m.

Tags Devin Nunes Donald Trump Jeff Sessions

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