Flynn sidekick Ezra Cohen-Watnick, fired by McMaster, lands job

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Kushner and Bannon tried to save him, but the general won out.

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This article first appeared on Just Security.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was fired from the National Security Council in August, has landed a new job at the Washington, D.C. office of Oracle, the Silicon Valley software giant, according to two sources with knowledge of his move.

His new job title is not confirmed and the company declined a request for comment.

The Trump administration already has ties to the company.

Safra Catz, CEO of the company along with Mark Hurd, was on the executive committee of the Trump transition team, making her unique among Silicon Valley executives, who have either publicly criticized the administration or avoided being too closely associated with it (one big exception to this is billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel ).

flynn-sidekick-ezra-cohenwatnick-fired-by-mcmaster-lands-job photo 1 Safra Catz, chief executive officer of Oracle, arrives at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty

The Trump transition team even talked to her about becoming the U.S. Trade Representative or Director of National Intelligence, according to a Bloomberg report. In January, she wrote an op-ed in The Hill , arguing why Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury Secretary, needed to be confirmed quickly.

“Mnuchin and President-elect Trump will disrupt the status quo and promote higher growth and better wages. That’s exactly what we need right now,” she wrote.

Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, the NSC’s chief of staff, has also worked at Oracle. In 2003, he retired from the Army and became senior vice president for homeland security solutions at the company. Later that year, he took a short leave of absence to work as the chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq under L. Paul Bremer.

Kellogg and Cohen-Watnick worked together on the NSC, where from January through early August, Cohen-Watnick was the senior director for intelligence programs. It was a short stint that brought with it plenty of controversy. He was hired by President Donald Trump’s first national security advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, before Flynn was forced to resign in February.

Flynn’s choice of Cohen-Watnick, a 31-year old who previously worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, was greeted with skepticism by many in the intelligence community who viewed him as too junior for such an important post.

He gained notoriety for being one of the White House officials who shared intelligence reports with Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who then used them in a ham-handed effort to try to buttress Trump’s false claim that President Barack Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the presidential campaign.

Cohen-Watnick’s hawkish policy views on Iran, including broadening the war in Syria to take on Iran’s proxy forces there to using U.S. spies to help force regime change in Tehran, also got him into trouble with other Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who disagreed with him on these issues.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster tried to move Cohen-Watnick out of his job soon after taking over from Flynn, but the young NSC staffer appealed to the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Bannon, who was serving as the president’s chief strategist, to help save his job back in March. They intervened on his behalf and Cohen-Watnick managed to hold onto his job until August.

“General McMaster is confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration,” a White House statement said at the time.

A week before Cohen-Watnick was fired, Derek Harvey, the top Middle East advisor on the NSC, was also asked to step down by McMaster. Since leaving the Trump administration, Harvey has returned to working for Nunes on Capitol Hill, where he was employed before joining the Trump administration in January, the Daily Beast reported Monday night.

While not totally unexpected, Harvey’s return to Nunes’s staff is sure to raise a few eyebrows thanks to the role he played in the Trump White House combined with Nunes’s compromised position as someone viewed to be doing the White House’s bidding while at the same time leading one of the committees charged with investigating the Trump campaign and any involvement it may have had with Russian efforts to interfere with the election.

Kate Brannen is the deputy managing editor of Just Security and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

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