Two White House staffers helped give intelligence reports to Representative Devin Nunes — reports that Nunes says showed President Donald Trump and his associates were incidentally discussed during legal surveillance, the New York Times reports.
Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, were identified as the staffers by several “current American officials,” the Times reports.
Nunes, a Republican from California who was a supporter of Trump and a member of his transition team, declined to confirm or deny the names of his sources.
“As he’s stated many times, Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources,” Jack langer, Nunes’ director of communications, told the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Times, the intelligence reports uncovered by Nunes include ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about developing contacts within the Trump family and his inner circle prior to the inauguration.
Nunes, who announced that he had obtained the reports last week, said they do not have anything to do with the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia, an investigation he is overseeing on the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats have called for Nunes to recuse himself and others have asked for an investigation into his actions regarding the classified intelligence reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ellis Worked for Nunes as General Counsel for the House Intelligence Committee Before Being Hired by the White House
Michael Ellis worked for Representative Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee as its general counsel prior to taking a job at the White House earlier this month, according to a White House press release on March 7 that announced his hiring.
Ellis, 32, was named special assistant to the president, senior associate counsel to the president and deputy National Security Counsel legal advisor, according to the press release.
He was the deputy general counsel to Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee from January 2015 to March 2015, policy director and deputy general counsel from March 2015 to December 2015 and general counsel from January 2016 to February 2017. He previously served as as counsel to Rep. Mike Rogers from September 2013 to January 2015.
The other White House staffer identified by the New York Times as a Nunes source, Ezra Cohen-Watnik, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. Cohen-Watnick was brought to the White House by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
According to the Times, Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing intercepted communications of foreign officials after President Trump tweeted that he had been wiretapped on the orders of President Obama. He has been reviewing the documents in the Eisenhower Executive Officer Building, where the National Security Council is based, according to the Times.
Nunes has told reporters he received a call from a source at the White House the night of March 21 and rushed to meet with the source and to review the documents. He said he needed a sdecure place where he could legally view classified information, so he chose the White House. He gave a briefing to the press about what he uncovered on March 22, and also briefed President Trump at the White House that day before giving a second news conference.
The Times reports that it was Ellis who brought Nunes into the White House to view the information.
2. He Is an Intelligence Officer in the Naval Reserve, Got His Undergrad Degree at Dartmouth & Graduated From Yale Law School
In addition to his job in the White House, Ellis is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, according to the White House press release.
He is a native of Saratoga Springs, New York.
Ellis graduated from Dartmouth in 2006. While there, he was the editor of the Dartmouth Review and was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. He went on to graduate from Yale Law School in 2011.
He was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Law & Policy in 2011.
“It’s a very nice honor, especially to be considered among such an impressive bunch of folks,” he told the Darmouth Review. “I think it’s a good thing that Forbes maintains these lists, but it certainly hasn’t changed my life. In fact, I’m still not exactly sure how they found me.”
3. Ellis Also Clerked for 2 Federal Court Judges, Was an Aide to Karl Rove & Worked on Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign
Ellis clerked for two federal court judges, according to his White House biography. He first clerked for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit of Appeals and then for Judge Amul Thapar of Eastern District of KEntucky.
Ellis worked as part of the President Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004.
“My freshman summer, I volunteered for the Bush campaign. At the end of the summer, they offered me a position as a paid staff member from January to November 2004. Because I had enough AP credits, I was able to take four consecutive off terms (my sophomore winter, spring, and summer, and junior fall) to work in polling and strategy for the campaign,” Ellis told the Dartmouth Review. “This experience taught me that politics and political campaigns, in particular, are great meritocracies. If you are willing to put in the time and effort and produce good work, you can rise up the ranks pretty quickly. There aren’t many organizations that will let a 19-year-old college sophomore truly dive in and assume really important responsibilities, but political campaigns are one of them.”
He then worked in the White House, as an aide to Karl Rove. His title was associate director in the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives. He left the White House after President Obama was elected.
“I worked in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, an office that actually no longer exists. Obama shut it down once he took office, perhaps because he thought it was closely associated with Karl Rove,” Ellis told the Darmouth Review. “While I was working at the White House, I was involved in polling. It wasn’t the best year of President Bush’s administration, and especially since I was tracking public opinion, it was certainly a very humbling experience. But nonetheless, it was a great opportunity, especially for someone straight out of college, and I’m thankful that I was able to serve.”
Ellis was part of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008, working as the deputy director of strategy in Boston.
In 2013, Ellis wrote an article for Real Clear Politics about Edward Snowden, Russia, Julian Assange and Wikileaks.
“The era of Wikileaks undoubtedly represents a serious challenge to the international state system. Snowden will not be the last disaffected leaker who wages an asymmetric war against a state system that is slow to respond to pinprick attack,” Ellis wrote. “The contractor’s quixotic adventure, however, indicates that the system’s demise has been prematurely reported. The Westphalian world order has proved remarkably durable, and the ‘war on secrecy’ is but its latest challenge.”
4. He & His Wife, an Air Force Doctor, Met at Dartmouth & Have Been Married Since 2011
Ellis and his wife, Captain Katherine Racicot Ellis, met while they were at Dartmouth and have been married since 2011, according to their New York Times wedding announcement.
They met through the Dartmouth Review, he told the student newspaper in an interview in 2013.
She is a native of New Hampshire and is an emergency medicine physician in the Air Force, according to her Linkedin profile.
Katherine Ellis received her medical degree from the Uniformed Services University and completed her residency at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The couple were married in July 2011 at the Gilford Community Church in New Hampshire. The ceremony was led by the church’s pastor, a minister of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., and included Christian and Jewish traditions, according to the Times.
5. He Competed on ‘Jeopardy’ in 2013, Taking Home $18,401
Ellis appeared on the TV game show Jeopardy in 2013 twice, winning once and taking home a total of $18,401, according to the J! Archive.
His appearances aired on April 22 and April 23.
“It was exciting to win,” Ellis told This Week News, an Ohio newspaper. “”After I got the call, I began studying. There are even books specific to preparing as a Jeopardy contestant. The pace of the show is quick. You hardly have time to think of answers. You know it or you don’t.”