National security adviser H.R. McMaster has removed another aide from the National Security Council at the White House, a sign that McMaster’s hand may have been strengthened by other White House shakeups.
On Wednesday, a White House official confirmed that McMaster had ousted Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council who had been viewed as a Trump loyalist.
“General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the NSC's Intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen's leadership,” the official said. “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.”
Cohen-Watnick, 31, who was brought into the NSC by former national security adviser Mike Flynn, was at the center of the controversy over House committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’s visit to the White House in March to look at intelligence reports about incidental surveillance of Trump officials during the presidential campaign.
His dismissal follows other recent changes at the NSC.
It was revealed on Wednesday in news reports that Rich Higgins, who served as director for strategic planning at the NSC, was fired July 21. Higgins had been an ally of senior White House adviser Steve Bannon.
And last week, Derek Harvey, a top Middle East adviser who served as special assistant to the president and senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council, was also relieved of his duties.
“General McMaster greatly appreciates Derek Harvey’s service to his country as a career Army officer, where he served his country bravely in the field and played a crucial role in the successful surge in Iraq, and also for his service on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration,” NSC spokesman Michael Anton said in a statement. “The administration is working with Colonel Harvey to identify positions in which his background and expertise can be best utilized.”
The changes at the NSC come as the White House has seen a number of other high-profile staff changes: chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned last week and was replaced by John Kelly; press secretary Sean Spicer resigned and was replaced by Sarah Sanders; and newly tapped communications director Anthony Scaramucci was forced out after just 10 days on the job.
Fox News’ John Roberts contributed to this report.