In a fascinating development, Bloomberg reports that Donald Trump “personally ordered” the Department of Justice to re-hire a Trump national security adviser who was fired last year after Rep. Devin Nunes was mysteriously provided with classified documents meant to suggest the Obama administration was overzealously pursuing the Trump campaign’s curious ties to Russia. Yes: that guy.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who left the National Security Council last year, will advise Attorney General Jeff Sessions on national security matters. He was fired from the White House following reports that he had shown House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes classified documents.
The material allegedly revealed 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.” Nunes then disclosed that information publicly in an attempt to bolster Trump’s unsubstantiated allegation that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him.
The Nunes move was one of the most brazen efforts to date to derail the investigation into Russian election hacking and its potential ties to the Trump campaign; the Michael Flynn-allied Cohen-Watnick was suspected (his carefully polished Wikipedia page fervently denies the charge) of uncovering materials that Nunes then “leaked” to the public, upon which the White House publicly seized on the Nunes revelations secretly provided to him by the administration itself to claim untowardness by the prior administration in looking into the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts. (We know now that the Obama team had good reason to be alarmed, and that the Trump campaign explicitly met with a Russian government-backed team in Trump Tower in an effort to procure Russian information about his opponent, in addition to a great number of other ties, but Nunes has been vigorous in his claims that the intelligence community finding this out is the real scandal here.)
Cohen-Watnick was booted by national security adviser H.R. McMaster after the incident; count it as perhaps one of the few attempts at ethical standards the Trump team ever made, or perhaps merely a McMaster attempt to clean out Flynn-era holdovers. But the news that Trump personally intervened afterwards to get the same adviser another national security post inside the administration, this time under Jeff Sessions himself, is quite the tidbit.
As a matter of policy, the White House generally doesn’t approve the rehiring of staff who were fired, aides said. But after it became clear the president wanted Cohen-Watnick on Sessions’ staff, the move was approved.
So now the man has come full circle, from being fired on suspicion of leaking information to discredit the Mueller investigation to, on Trump’s orders, a “national security” post inside the department managing that same investigation? Go. Figure.
“Given Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s reported role in helping Congressman Nunes turn the House Intelligence Committee investigation into a partisan breeding ground for conspiracy theories, his new position with the Attorney General at such a sensitive time is deeply troubling,” Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said in a statement. “Mr. Cohen-Watnick must not come anywhere near the Mueller investigation, and Democrats will watch like a hawk to ensure that’s the case.”
No kidding. Though given his relationship with the administration to date, it’s safe to say Democrats won’t be the only ones watching to see whether Cohen-Watnick again just happens to harbor a curiously specific interest in classified details related to the Mueller investigation. There’s probably a few FBI investigators who will be keeping close tabs on that themselves; the investigators do not seem in the mood for games, at this point.