Senior Director for Intelligence, National Security Council
Ezra Cohen-Watnick was the Senior Director of Intelligence Programs for the National Security Council before leaving on August 2, 2017 at the request of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster who expressed the need for someone with “a different set of experiences” in the position. McMaster tried to remove Cohen-Watnick in March, but the young aide appealed the decision to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner who took it directly to the President. Trump personally stepped in and saved the 30-year-old’s job.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn initially brought Cohen-Watnick onto the Trump transition team and then into the Administration. Flynn and Cohen-Watnick met when the latter joined the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012. Cohen-Watnick impressed Flynn although accounts of his time with DIA do not paint him in a flattering light. The two men allegedly shared a distrust of the CIA, affection for Russia, and a hatred for Iran.
Cohen-Watnick’s wife, Rebecca Miller, worked for Ketchum, a public relations firm, where her job prior to 2015 reportedly entailed promotion and marketing for the Russian government.
When President Trump tweeted unfounded claims the Obama Administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, Cohen-Watnick attempted to substantiate the accusations. Cohen-Watnick collected classified files that made mention of times Trump campaign officials turned up in routine surveillance of foreign individuals and shared them with the NSC’s top lawyer, John Eisenberg. The two then involved Michael Ellis, another NSC attorney who had worked for Representative Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
On the evening of March 21, 2017, Nunes got a phone call and rushed to the White House where he reviewed the collected classified documents. The next afternoon, he held a press conference saying he had information about Trump associates’ names turning up in foreign surveillance reports. He then went to the White House to brief the President before returning again to address the press.
On March 29, 2017, The New York Times identified Cohen-Watnick and Ellis as Nunes’ sources.