An ousted National Security Counsel official is rejoining the Trump administration as an advisor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a move that has irked top Democrats with one vowing to watch him “like a hawk.”
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, former senior director for intelligence at NSC, has joined the Justice Department to advise Mr. Sessions on national security issues. During his time at the NSC, Mr. Cohen-Watnick oversaw its covert operations.
The Justice Department Department declined to comment on the hiring, which was reported Wednesday by multiple media outlets.
One top Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, expressed concerns about Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s return to government.
Mr. Schumer said the hiring was “deeply troubling” because of Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s role in a claim that the Obama administration was spying on President Trump during the 2016 campaign.
Early last year, Mr. Trump accused the previous administration, without evidence, of wiretapping his phones at Trump Tower. Those allegations were supported by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican.
Mr. Nunes claimed unnamed individuals showed him intelligence reports indicating the Obama administration captured communications involving Mr. Trump while surveilling foreigners. He did not divulge the source of his information, but The New York Times reported that Mr. Cohen-Watnick, at the behest of two senior White House officials, provided the documents Mr. Nunes claimed was proof.
The revelation that the reports were provided by White House officials for political purposes debunked Mr. Nunes’ claims he received the report from whistleblowers.
Mr. Cohen-Watnick has always maintained he was not aware the reports had been leaked to Mr. Nunes. Despite his claims of innocence, Mr. Schumer said he opposed Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s return to the administration.
In a statement, Mr. Schumer expressed concern that Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s role in the Justice Department could undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. Mr. Cohen-Watnick is joining the agency just days after the FBI raided the home, office and hotel of Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, prompting the president to publicly ponder if he should fire Mr. Mueller.
“Given Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s reported role in helping Congressman Nunes turn the House Intelligence Committee investigation into a partisan breeding ground for conspiracy theories, his new position with the Attorney General at such a sensitive time is deeply troubling,” Mr. Schumer said. “Mr. Cohen-Watnick must not come anywhere near the Mueller investigation, and Democrats will watch like a hawk to ensure that’s the case.”
Mr. Cohen-Watnik joined the NSC under Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser who was fired just a few weeks into the administration. He left in August as part of an NSC shake up by President Trump’s new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. It is not clear if his role in the Nunes’ leaks was a factor in his departure.
Last month, Mr. McMaster resigned from the position and was replaced by John Bolton.
During his time away from the administration, Mr. Cohen-Watnick joined Oracle’s Washington, D.C. office.