Malcolm Nance was not mincing words last night. Appearing on MSNBC’s Last Word with journalist Joy Reid as host, the former US Navy intelligence and counter-terrorism expert said that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, should lose his security clearance for misuse of classified information.
Nance was reacting to the two biggest stories of the day. Late yesterday, the New York Times published the names of two White House officials who showed classified intelligence to Rep. Devin Nunes in a bid to feed the president’s fake news “wiretapping” campaign. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is pursuing an immunity agreement in exchange for his testimony.
Attorney Michael Elliot, a former House Intelligence Committee aide close to Nunes, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick tried obscure Donald Trump’s Russian influence scandal by showing Nunes examples of “incidental collection,” wherein Trump associates’ conversations with agents of Russian influence were swept up in everyday surveillance.
Nunes then hyped the topic of incidental collection to the press and made a great show of informing Trump about the reports instead of his own committee.
But with Flynn now apparently on the verge of becoming a federal witness, Nance marveled that Cohen-Watnick ever had access to raw classified reports in the first place.
Just 30 years old and not known for his expertise or education, Cohen-Watnick only got his position through loyalty to Flynn, and only kept it after Flynn’s resignation because Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon overruled H.R. McMaster, the career Army general who replaced Flynn.
Nance, the first TV commentator to predict postelection legal trouble for Flynn, agreed with Joy Reid that McMaster was “prescient” when he tried to reassign Cohen-Watnick, an “extremely junior intelligence analyst.”
“He would have four years experience in an analytical position,” Nance explained. “How he got to this position at the White House is a disgrace.”
Because even the most junior operatives at the CIA and other agencies, you’re usually a watch-stander, you’re just the guy who runs out and gets coffee. But he managed to become the top intelligence official on the National Security Council staff, overruling a general of this magnitude. This is an example of incompetence at the White House, and this guy is now going to have to answer for exactly why he misused classified material for political purpose.
Nance insisted that Cohen-Watnick’s actions are “just not done” in the legitimate intelligence world.
You had people, who were cleared, going onto classified systems drawing out special intelligence — which by the way is the most secret of secrets that we have — and taking that special intelligence, calling up the investigator, telling him that you have information, bringing him into the White House for him to review it, and then he goes out and gives a press conference about that. This is beyond unusual. Watnick needs to lose his clearance today. The NSA needs to say, “I’m sorry, we’re not gonna let this guy use our classified systems anymore because they are abusing these systems for their own personal reasons,” which of course, were in the end political and not intelligence related at all. And that is a violation of their security clearance.
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