National security adviser H.R. McMaster on Wednesday removed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, his senior intelligence director, from his position in the White House more than four months after he initially tried to get him out of the job.
In March, McMaster told the 30-year-old former Defense Intelligence Agency official that he was being moved to another position. But Cohen-Watnick, who worked on the Trump transition team and is close to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appealed to Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist. Bannon and Kushner spoke with Trump, and Cohen-Watnick was kept in place.
McMaster’s removal of Cohen-Watnick suggests that his influence in the White House and control over his personnel might be on the rise because of the arrival of new White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general.
The White House confirmed Cohen-Watnick’s firing shortly after it was reported by the Conservative Review.
“General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the NSC’s Intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen’s leadership,” according to a White House statement. “He has determined that, at this time, a different set of experiences is best-suited to carrying that work forward.”
The statement said that Cohen-Watnick would take on another position in the administration. His dismissal follows the removal last week of retired Army Col. Derek Harvey, an influential voice on Iran, Syria and counterterrorism policy.
Harvey and Cohen-Watnick were known in the White House for their hawkish views on Iran and were regular allies in White House debates on counterterrorism, Middle East policy and Iran policy, U.S. officials said. Cohen-Watnick and Harvey were hired by McMaster’s ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn.
McMaster initially sought to remove Cohen-Watnick after CIA Director Mike Pompeo told him that some intelligence officials did not think he was up to the job, said U.S. officials. The intelligence director is the White House’s primary point of contact with the intelligence community and is a filter for information that goes to the president.