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White House Purging Flynn Allies From National Security Council

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Michael T. Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser. - SAM HODGSON/THE NEW YORK TIMES)
  • Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)
  • Michael T. Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser.

By GLENN THRUSH and PETER BAKER
© 2017 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — 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 NSC’s intelligence division and, like others who have left, was appointed by Michael T. Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser. Flynn resigned in February after it was disclosed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about a telephone call with Russia’s ambassador.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster succeeded Flynn and has tried to move out some of Flynn’s appointees. He initially tried to fire 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. Kushner dropped his opposition this week, according to someone with knowledge of the decision.

Cohen-Watnick drew attention when he and another White House official briefed Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on classified intelligence reports revealing that U.S. intelligence agencies had conducted incidental surveillance of Trump’s transition team. The briefing was intended to bolster Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama ordered phones tapped at Trump Tower.

Cohen-Watnick’s departure, announced late Wednesday, follows several others last month. Tera Dahl, the deputy chief of staff at the NSC and a former writer for Breitbart News, which was run by Bannon before he joined the White House staff, left for a post at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Later in the month, Derek Harvey, the top Middle East adviser, and Rich Higgins, the director of strategic planning, were pushed out.

Higgins was forced out after writing a memo arguing that Trump was being subverted by an array of foreign and domestic enemies, including globalists, bankers, officials of the “deep state,” Islamists and those questioning interactions between Trump campaign officials and Russia, according to a report in The Atlantic magazine.

All four officials were considered Trump allies who shared the anti-globalist views of Flynn and Bannon. K.T. McFarland, a former Fox News analyst, was pushed out as deputy national security adviser in May and nominated to be ambassador to Singapore.