Friday, March 31, 2017

The swampish scandal at the National Security Council

The NSC scandal goes like this. A gives information to B who then relays it to C who gives it to X who tells D who might have known it from C but then X reports it to everyone, and the reason why A is involved at all is that A was going to be fired by M but A griped to Y and Z who then got D to tell M that A was to be retained so A got his job back and then fired his employee from the CIA. Got that? If not, read on.

The New York Times reports that 2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports.

… Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee. Though neither has been accused of breaking any laws, they do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration.

Mr. Cohen-Watnick, 30, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who served on the Trump transition team and was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

He was nearly pushed out of his job this month by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who replaced Mr. Flynn as national security adviser, …

Cohen-Watnick might have been caught up in an NSC house-cleaning by McMaster. Politico reports McMaster rolls back Flynn’s changes at NSC. Trump’s new national security adviser is eliminating positions created by his ousted predecessor. But “nearly”? What’s with that?

The Daily Beast reported that Trump Overrules McMaster on NSC Aide’s Ouster.

President Trump has reportedly overturned a personnel decision made by his national security adviser at the behest of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had informed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, that he’d be moving to another position on Friday, Politico reported. McMaster reportedly made the decision after receiving complaints from several career officials about the 30-year-old intelligence operative. But Cohen-Watnick went to Bannon and Kushner—with whom he’d apparently formed an alliance while working on the president’s transition team—and fought the move, two sources close to the matter told Politico. After they informed Trump of the situation Sunday, he overruled McMaster and told Cohen-Watnick he could stay put.

And that is why Cohen-Watnick “survived after the intervention of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.”

So who is this guy? Forward.com invites you to Meet Ezra Cohen-Watnick, The Secret Source At The Center Of Trump Russia Probe “Young Mr. Cohen-Watnick”, out of college, started working at DIA under Michael Flynn who then brought him to the Trump transition team and then to the NSC.

Flynn’s successor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster sought to remove Cohen-Watnick from the team, following input from the CIA director who pointed to problems intelligence officers had when dealing with Cohen-Watnick. Questions were raised about his ability to carry out the position of senior NSC director for intelligence programs, who oversees ties with intelligence agencies and vets information that should reach the president’s desk.

But qualifications and experience, as we keep learning, do not count for much in the Trumpiverse. So …

The [NY] Times said that Cohen-Watnick became swept up in the Russia probe this month, shortly after Trump wrote on Twitter about unsubstantiated claims of being wiretapped on the orders of former President Barack Obama.

Cohen-Watnick apparently was reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials that consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to curry favor with Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.

And that information was given to Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who then relayed that to the president and gave the weird statements to the press and thereby sabotaged his own committee’s investigation.

Addenda

Expect more personnel changes at NSC. For background on NSC Director H. R. McMaster, check out this other Daily Beast report, Trump Taps General Who Doesn’t Back Down. New National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is famous in military circles for calling out big egos. How long can he make it in a White House packed with them?. Want to place a bet?

The Washington Post reported a 3rd source for the information given to Nunes: Three White House officials tied to files shared with House intelligence chairman.

The third White House official involved was identified as Michael Ellis, a lawyer who previously worked with Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee but joined the Trump administration as an attorney who reports to Eisenberg. Ellis and Eisenberg report to the White House counsel, Donald McGahn.

The Post has more on how McMaster tried to replace Cohen-Watnick and was over-ruled by Trump.

Flynn frequently battled with the CIA, which mounted a failed effort to have Cohen removed from his job.

After Flynn was replaced by H.R. McMaster, some in the CIA made it known to him that the agency would prefer someone else in Cohen’s job. Early this month, McMaster interviewed the agency’s suggested candidate, senior CIA analyst Linda Weissgold, and informed Cohen that he was being moved to another position.

Cohen consulted Kushner and Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist. After Kushner and Bannon spoke with Trump over the March 11–12 weekend, Cohen was back in place.

Within days, a CIA detailee to the NSC working under Cohen was told without explanation to clear out his desk and return to the agency. The agent, a former and future covert operative whose name is being withheld by The Washington Post at the request of the CIA, was on a standard two-year rotation to the White House.

So the “swamp” now includes the NSC. As AZBlueMeanie put it (in a comprehensive review of all this, Nunes’ leakers revealed – he coordinated with the White House (Updated), “We now have a National Security Council (NSC) scandal as well.” AZBlueMeanie concludes:

Rep. Devin Nunes has compromised the integrity of the House Intelligence Committee by coordinating with the White House to undermine the investigation of his own committee. He needs to recuse himself or to be replaced by House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately.

Nunes should also be referred to the FBI for publicly exposing classified information that he received from leakers — the very same thing of which he complained with respect to the news media. He did so for a partisan political motivation.

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