Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
There was one person, however, who McMaster couldn’t get rid of: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence programs. McMaster tried to remove him in March, but President Trump, at the urging of Bannon and Jared Kushner, told McMaster that Cohen-Watnick was staying, as first reported by Politico. According to a senior White House official, the two men had a sit-down meeting the following week in which McMaster acknowledged that he hadn’t been able to do what he wanted to do, and that they would keep things as they are and “see how they go for a while.” That was over four months ago. That Cohen-Watnick, 31 years old and largely unknown before entering the administration, has become unfireable reveals how important he has become to the Trump White House, where loyalty is prized.