The White House has engaged in a slow-motion purge of hard-line officials at the National Security Council in recent weeks, angering conservatives who complain that the foreign policy establishment is reasserting itself over a president who had promised a new course.
The latest to go was Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who ran the N.S.C.’s intelligence division and, like others who have left, was originally appointed by Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser. Mr. Flynn resigned in February after it was disclosed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about a telephone call with Russia’s ambassador.
Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster succeeded Mr. Flynn and has slowly tried to move out some of Mr. Flynn’s appointees. He initially tried to fire Mr. Cohen-Watnick earlier this year, only to be rebuffed by Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. But Mr. Kushner dropped his opposition this week, according to someone with knowledge of the decision.
A fierce Trump loyalist, Mr. Cohen-Watnick drew attention when he and another White House official briefed Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on classified intelligence reports revealing that American intelligence agencies had conducted incidental surveillance of Mr. Trump’s transition team. The briefing was intended to bolster Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama ordered phones tapped at Trump Tower.
Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s resignation was announced by the White House late Wednesday. “General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the N.S.C.’s intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen’s leadership,” a spokesman said in a statement. “He has determined that, at this time, a different set of experiences is best suited to carrying that work forward. General McMaster is confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration.”
His departure follows several others last month. Tera Dahl, the deputy chief of staff at the N.S.C. and a former writer for Breitbart News, which was run by Mr. Bannon before he joined the White House staff, left for a post at the United States Agency for International Development.
Later in the month, in separate developments, Derek Harvey, the top Middle East adviser, and Rich Higgins, the director of strategic planning, were each pushed out.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker