Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former Intelligence aide to President Donald J. Trump who exited the White House surrounded by controversy in 2017, is returning to the administration as a senior staff member in the Department of Defense, Bloomberg reported.
Cohen-Watnick, 34, has taken the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats. A Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Commander Candice Tresch, said in an email that Cohen-Watnick is “filling that position as of today.”
Cohen-Watnick, formerly was Senior Director for Intelligence under then National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, during the first few months of the Trump administration. As Gen. Flynn was pushed out amid controversy, Cohen-Watnick was also squeezed out after disagreements with Flynn’s replacement, H.R. McMaster, over policies in Afghanistan, where he also served.
According to a senior administration official in that article, Cohen-Watnick was asked to come back and had good ties with staff at the NSC during his time there, and was viewed as “very capable and very loyal,” the official said.
Many Republicans welcomed Cohen-Watnick’s return.
“For too long, good people who actually understand this president have been prevented from implementing the America First agenda,” said Sergio Gor, deputy chief of staff to Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican. “Having appointees like Ezra will change that.”
Cohen-Watnick’s ties with Flynn placed him at great odds with many career members of the Intelligence community, particularly the CIA, where Flynn targeted corruption, according to some familiar with the White House National Security Council’s inner workings.
He was also one of two staffers who gave information to Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on intelligence gathering that challenged the narrative of the Mueller’s Russia probe.
Tom Ferguson, had a different point of reference, however. Tom worked with the NSC regularly as a senior counterintelligence officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and said “the majority of the folks that he worked with who were apolitical had the utmost respect for him.”
“He’s one of the good guys,” Ferguson added.
On Friday, the Department of Justice dropped criminal charges against General Flynn for lying to the FBI in a set-up designed to railroad him out of his job before the Trump Administration could take over the White House. As the tables turn on those who set him up, many are hoping for their comeuppance to improve the tarnished reputation of the FBI because of the scandal.
Cohen-Watnick’s new post at the Defense Department will include examining financial transactions to map out terrorism and drug traffic networks, developing counter-drug and counter-transnational organized crime policy, issuing guidance and establishing priorities for missions that focus on countering illicit drug trafficking, illicit financial flows and the illicit trafficking of people, wildlife and weapons.
Cohen-Watnick worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), beginning in 2010, where he served in Miami, Haiti, Virginia and Afghanistan.
Cohen-Watnick was accepted into the training program for the Defense Clandestine Service and underwent training at Camp Peary where he was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
He was assigned to Afghanistan, with a GS-13 rank, and was later temporarily assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency Headquarters in 2014. Cohen-Watnick left the DIA for the NSC on 20 January 2017.
Considering Trump’s strong stance on human trafficking, drug trafficking and border security in order to protect victims of those crimes and our great nation, the addition of Cohen-Watnick to the leadership teams places him at the center of the action. His appointment could also signal that the reinstatement of Flynn could be next.