Trump loyalist and former GOP operative Michael Ellis started his new job as the National Security Agency’s top lawyer on Tuesday, despite Democratic opposition to his last-minute appointment.
A web page has been created for his official biography as the spy agency’s general counsel, and an NSA spokesperson confirmed that Ellis started Tuesday.
The appointment comes one day before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and one day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller demanding that he “immediately cease” his plans to install Ellis, calling the move “highly suspect.”
“The circumstances and timing — immediately after President [Donald] 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 Monday.
“Further, the efforts to install him or ‘burrow’ him into a highly sensitive intelligence position 72 hours prior to the beginning of a new administration manifest a disturbing disregard for our national security,” she added. “Therefore, this placement should not move forward.”
Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the fact that Ellis’ appointment had taken effect.
Because the role — one of the most senior at NSA — is a civil service position, not a political one, it could prove difficult for the incoming Biden administration to immediately remove Ellis. The new administration could reassign him to serve elsewhere, however.
The Biden transition team declined to comment.
Ellis worked for Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the president’s staunchest supporters, when the California Republican chaired the House Intelligence Committee. He served as a National Security Council lawyer and most recently as its senior director for intelligence.
The Pentagon’s general counsel selected Ellis for the NSA post in November, reportedly bypassing others who were more qualified. NSA chief Army Gen. Paul Nakasone then slow-walked the appointment, until Miller ordered him over the weekend to install Ellis.
On Sunday, the agency said in a statement that Ellis had accepted the job and “is moving forward with his employment.”
Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — the incoming chairs of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees — asked the Pentagon’s inspector general last year to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ellis’ selection.
“It’s hard to imagine a more clear sign of contempt for the professionals in the [intelligence community] than having a directive from the Acting Defense Secretary to violate civil service rules and politicize an apolitical role,” Warner tweeted on Monday.