The New York Times has identified the White House personnel who showed Rep. Devin Nunes intelligence reports of Donald Trump and his associates being “swept up” in the surveillance of foreign diplomats, and neither of them is a surprise.
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 formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
In fact, Ellis worked for Nunes until just a couple of weeks ago, so he had already been named by knowledgeable observers. Ezra Cohen-Watnick is a 30-year old Iran hawk and protege of disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn from their days together at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He first made news earlier this month when it emerged that Trump had overruled a decision by Flynn’s replacement, LTG H.R. McMaster, to reassign Cohen-Watnick at the request of the CIA.
According to the Times, after Donald Trump began tweeting about alleged wiretapping, Cohen-Watnick combed through intelligence reports for anything that might be spun into substantiation for the president’s conspiracy theory that Obama administration officials targeted his staff’s communications during the election.
The officials said that this month, shortly after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter about being wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.
Officials said the reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.
Even Nunes admits that this collection activity was completely lawful. What he pretends to find alarming is the potential ‘unmasking’ of Trump associates affected by incidental collection. What he actually finds alarming is that so many of Trump’s close associates had so many conversations with Russian officials.
Take Mike Flynn, for instance. Not only did he talk to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on the day that President Obama announced new sanctions in retaliation for Kremlin election interference, he then repeatedly lied about it. Flynn was caught out by incidental collection of the ambassador’s communications. Trump was remarkably unfazed to learn that Flynn had lied, asking for his resignation only after eighteen days had passed and the New York Times had reported that Sally Yates had informed Trump about Flynn’s lies.
Since then, we have learned that Flynn was a paid foreign agent who accepted cash from Kremlin-connected Russian firms before and throughout the campaign. Despite knowing that Flynn needed to register as a foreign agent, Trump involved him in classified briefings and appointed him to the nation’s top intelligence post.
Thus exposed as a fraud who pretended to brief the president on things his staff already knew, Rep. Nunes ought to resign as committee chairman or at least recuse himself, but he almost certainly won’t. Failing that, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan ought to remove Nunes, but he probably won’t do that, either. Hyper-partisan House Republicans have clearly elected to put their politics ahead of their country — just as Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner preferred Ezra Cohen-Watnick’s doglike loyalty to H.R. McMaster’s bone-deep patriotism.
Featured image: public domain
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