A Trump administration official wanted to set up a system to monitor the communications in the White House as part of an effort to stop leaks to the press, according to a report.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick wanted to find the “insider threat” in the fledgling administration when he was working on the National Security Council last year, three former NSC officials told the Daily Beast Sunday.
There is no evidence to suggest that anything ever came of the plan, which one official told the outlet was “designed to intimidate rather than protect national security.”
Cohen-Watnick’s lawyer said that his client had worked on a classified information security measure from the Obama administration, and claimed that the idea that it would be morphed to look at loyalty to President Trump stems from “cowardly individuals who have a personal ax to grind.”
The Obama directive was issued in response to the massive leak of government information Chelsea Manning brought to Wikileaks.
Cohen-Watnick’s lawyer said that the program was still in development when he left the National Security Council last summer.
The 31-year-old departed the administration in August after reports that he showed Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican atop the House Intelligence Committee, classified documents amid debate about intelligence “unmasking” of Americans tied to the Russia investigation.
He denies that he gave any classified documents to the congressman.
After a sting at tech company Oracle, he reemerged in Washington last month when he was hired by the Justice Department as an adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump personally ordered that Cohen-Watnick be hired for the position, Bloomberg reported, though the exact contours of his new work are unclear.
Cohen-Watnick had previously worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and was brought to the NSC by disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Reports about his communication monitoring idea come as leaks have become a constant preoccupation for the White House.
Some of the leakers spoke to Axios about the prospect of sharing information, with one person saying that he or she tries to notice and use other people’s idioms in leaks because it “throws the scent off me.”
Other stated reasons for leaking included losing a policy debate, personal grudges and “frustration with incompetent or tone-deaf leadership.”