House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday sent a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Miller demanding an immediate halt to attempts to install a new NSA General Counsel candidate, cites it “is highly irregular and highly suspect.”
Nancy Pelosi demanded Christopher C. Miller “an immediate halt to the improper process of installing unqualified Trump-loyalist Michael Ellis as the new National Security Agency General Counsel 72 hours prior to the beginning of the new Administration.”
In the letter, the Speaker wrote, “Public reporting indicates that Mr. Ellis, a relatively recent law school graduate with a limited resume, was selected due to interference by the White House, and was chosen over much more qualified candidates. Moreover, Mr. Ellis has been reportedly involved in highly questionable activities that are disqualifying – including the infamous 2017 ‘midnight run’ to launder intelligence information through Rep. Devin Nunes and with efforts to shield information about President Trump’s July 2019 call with the President of Ukraine.”
“The NSA General Counsel, which involves supervising many intelligence community attorneys and interacting with intelligence agencies, is a highly sensitive career position for which candidates are selected, based on merit and free from political influence,” Speaker Pelosi continued. “If Mr. Ellis did go through the traditional civil service hiring process, I request a detailed account of that process, to understand how someone with his credentials was chosen over other qualified candidates.”
Her letter came on the same day that the NSA said it was installing Ellis into the post, a move that Miller ordered NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone to carry out.
Ellis, former counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes when the California Republican led the House Intelligence Committee, was named the NSA’s chief lawyer. Previously, Ellis served under National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg during the Ukraine impeachment fight and worked as the NSC’s senior director for intelligence programs. Ellis joined the NSA amid a Pentagon shake-up when Trump fired former Pentagon leader Mark Esper and picked former National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller to take over.
“Mr. Ellis accepted his final job offer yesterday afternoon,” an NSA official told the Washington Examiner on Sunday. “NSA is moving forward with his employment.”
“The General Counsel of the Department of Defense is the sole selection authority for the position of General Counsel of the National Security Agency – as well as all other senior career DoD General Counsel positions,” according to a Sunday statement from the Department of Defense. “The Director of the NSA does not select or approve of candidates for the position of the NSA General Counsel.””To be clear, congressional or media interest in a particular hiring action are not justification under the merit system principles and process to delay placing a selected qualified individual in a position,” the statement added.
A Pentagon spokesperson said, “A candidate for a career position is not automatically excluded from consideration due to ‘administration ties’ – as the two prior NSA Generals Counsel were not excluded from consideration and eventual selection due to their ‘administration ties.’ Once a candidate is selected through the merit system, given an offer, and meets the requirements to be entered into the position, if that entry does not happen it exposes the department, agency, and senior leadership to claims for a violation of the merit system principles and processes that are designed to protect the participants in such selections.”
Ellis was involved with the prepublication review process of former White House national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir in 2020 and concluded the book contained classified information. Ellis was also reportedly one of the two former White House officials, along with now-acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who alerted Nunes in early 2017 that communications of Trump associates may have been intercepted during foreign surveillance.