Cohen-Watnick’s name surfaced in late March 2017 when he was identified as one of two White House officials who had helped provide the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, with intelligence reports indicating that former national security adviser Susan Rice had “unmasked” the identities of several Trump associates.
McMaster’s first attempt to sideline Cohen-Watnick came in March after complaints from CIA analysts who had complained about working with him, according to a POLITICO report. But Cohen-Watnick appealed to Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with whom he had developed a close relationship during the transition. They took the matter directly to the Trump, who overruled his national security adviser.
Cohen-Watnick’s removal also coincides with the arrival at the White House of Gen. John Kelly, President Trump’s new chief of staff, who replaced Reince Priebus on Monday. Kelly has quickly asserted control over a chaotic and undisciplined White House, and speculation immediately began to mount that he, in addition to McMaster, played a role in the latest NSC shakeup.
Little is known about Cohen-Watnick, who had spent much of his short career as a low-ranking official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Information about him in publicly available sources is scarce. Few higher-ups from the DIA remember him.
Cohen-watnick was raised in chevy chase, maryland, an affluent suburb of Washington. His father is a lawyer; his mother a doctor; the couple is separated. Cohen-Watnick attended Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School, graduating in 2004. Cohen-Watnick entered the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2004. Cohen-Watnick’s history becomes murkier around 2008, his final year at Penn.
Cohen-Watnick took a civilian job with the Navy after college. A DIA spokesperson confirmed that Cohen-Watnick had joined the DIA in 2010, and left it in January of 2017. Newsweek reported that Cohen-Watnick entered the Defense Clandestine Service in 2012 and was sent to “The Farm,” the CIA training facility in Virginia, in 2013. Cohen-Watnick later served overseas in Afghanistan at a CIA base.
Cohen-Watnick actually met Flynn much later, in 2016, at a coffee arranged by Michael Ledeen’s wife Barbara, who Cohen-Watnick knows from growing up outside of Washington. Ledeen is a friend of Flynn’s and co-authored the book Field of Fight with him.
One way or another, Michael Flynn seems to have elevated Cohen-Watnick to his high station in the Trump administration. What remains a mystery is who exactly has protected him since Flynn went down, and why. The Nunes scandal cemented Cohen-Watnick's reputation as a loyalist and as someone who could withstand the heat of public controversy.
In April 2018 it was announced that he is taking a job as a senior adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Ezra Cohen-Watnick will provide advice to Sessions on issues related to national security, counterintelligence and counterterrorism.