Pelosi demands halt to naming GOP operative as spy agency lawyer

Chris Strohm
Bloomberg
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that the Defense Department halt plans to install a Republican operative as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency in the closing hours of President Donald Trump’s administration.

The appointment of Michael Ellis as NSA general counsel is “highly suspect,” Pelosi told Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller in a letter dated Jan. 17 and released on Monday.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

“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,” Pelosi wrote. “Therefore, this placement should not move forward.”

Pelosi also requested that the Pentagon’s inspector general open an investigation into the selection process for the post.

“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,” Pelosi wrote.

An NSA official confirmed that Ellis accepted a final job offer on Jan. 16 and the agency is moving forward with his employment. The Trump administration comes to an end at noon on Jan. 20.

Ellis is a former Intelligence Committee aide to Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, who led a campaign to portray Trump as the victim of a “deep state” cabal in the FBI and intelligence agencies. As a lawyer at the White House for the National Security Council, Ellis led an unsuccessful effort to bar publication of a tell-all book by former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The Washington Post reported earlier that Miller had ordered Ellis’s immediate appointment despite concerns by some national security officials that he isn’t qualified for the job. It said the incoming Biden administration could transfer Ellis from the NSA counsel’s position but he would still have the protection of a civil service job in the intelligence agency, making it difficult to fire him.

Pentagon General Counsel Paul Ney named Ellis, then a White House official, to the position in November, and he was selected after being among those found qualified in a competitive civil service competition, according to the Post.

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