- The Trump-installed General Counsel of the National Security Agency has been put on administrative leave a day after starting the role, due to a Department of Defense inspector general probe, CNN reported.
- Michael Ellis’s installation just before President Joe Biden took office garnered criticism that the Trump administration was trying to burrow a loyalist in a civilian position.
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Michael Ellis, the National Security Agency general counsel who was installed just a day before President Joe Biden took office, is now on administrative leave because the Department of Defense inspector general is investigating his appointment, CNN reported.
Last week, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told the head of the NSA to install Ellis as general counsel by 6 p.m. on Saturday. The next day, the agency said it was moving forward with Ellis’s installation and announced that he would start the day before Biden was sworn in.
“Mr. Ellis accepted his final job offer yesterday afternoon. NSA is moving forward with his employment,” an NSA official told Insider on Sunday.
National security legal experts were critical of the effort to burrow Ellis in the role only a few days before a new administration took over.
The NSA’s general counsel position is not a political one but a civil servant role, which means it will be harder for the incoming Biden administration to fire him. However, the new president can easily reassign him to a less important job.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was also critical of the move and on Monday sent a letter to Miller demanding he “immediately cease” Ellis’s installation.
“The circumstances and timing – immediately after President Trump’s defeat in the election – of the selection of Mr. Ellis, and this eleventh-hour effort to push this placement in the last three days of this administration are highly suspect,” Pelosi wrote.
On Wednesday, a DoD spokesperson told Insider they did not comment on open investigations, and an NSA spokesperson said they don’t comment on personnel matters.
Ellis’s appointment came shortly after President-elect Joe Biden was projected to win the 2020 election in November. During that same month, the Washington Post reported that Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jack Reed asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate Ellis’s appointment on the grounds of “improper political influence.”
“The combination of timing, comparative lack of experience of the candidate, the reported qualifications of the other finalists, and press accounts of White House involvement create a perception that political influence or considerations may have played an undue role in a merit-based civil service selection process,” Warner and Reed wrote in a letter in November, CNN reported.
Ellis’s selection also came around when nearly a dozen senior government officials were fired, forced to resign, or resigned in protest, with outgoing President Donald Trump carrying out a political purge at the Defense Department.
Ellis served as chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes, who is a Trump loyalist. The concerns over his installation relate to helping Nunes get access to intelligence documents in 2017 that aided Trump in politically attack Democrats, the Post reported.