Newsweek

Trump's Invisible Man

Inside the mysterious rise of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young NSC official at the center of a bizarre Russiagate subplot.
President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., on January 31.
Trump Ezra-Cohen Watnick Source: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Updated | The well-manicured Washington, D.C., suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is probably what President Donald Trump’s supporters imagine when they whoop about draining the capital’s “swamp.” A high-income enclave of Volvo-driving, wine-sipping, NPR-listening lawyers, lobbyists, journalists and government bureaucrats, Chevy Chase is such a liberal stronghold that local Republicans said last year they were afraid to plant Trump campaign posters on their lawns.

All of which makes the town an unlikely launch pad for Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the suddenly prominent White House National Security Council official at the center of a bizarre backdoor maneuver to provide House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes with top-secret documents on government surveillance. Cohen-Watnick reportedly retrieved the documents from a classified CIA terminal in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and gave them to Nunes, a California Republican who had been a member of Trump’s transition team. They were intended to prove that former President Barack Obama was “wire tapping” Trump during the 2016 campaign. The documents did no such thing, other members of the panel concluded after studying them. What they actually showed is that U.S. intelligence agencies did have Trump’s associates on their radar—but only because they were tracking Russian agents.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump President Donald Trump walks along the West Wing colonnade with his daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is senior adviser to the president for strategic planning, on March 17, in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The incident triggered a House Ethics Committee probe into Nunes and forced him to recuse himself from his own panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. But it also prompted questions from longtime intelligence officials about how Cohen-Watnick, a 30-year-old with apparently only a single, allegedly trouble-filled, junior-level tour of duty with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Afghanistan on his résumé, managed to secure one of the most consequential jobs in the White House: coordinating all of the

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