Democrats are attempting a politically-motivated purge of a highly-qualified intelligence professional from a non-partisan career civil service position at the Pentagon’s National Security Agency over his prior work for Republicans, according to two former Trump administration officials.
Michael Ellis, who last served as the former senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council during the Trump administration, was put on administrative leave from his new position as the general counsel at the National Security Agency, just hours after President Joe Biden was inaugurated.
Ellis — a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, Yale Law School graduate, and Jeopardy! winner — had first applied for the position in January 2020, and went through an extensive months-long vetting process conducted by a panel of non-partisan civil servants, according to the two former officials.
Ellis was ultimately selected for the position in mid-November by Paul Ney, the Pentagon’s general counsel whose first job at the department came during the George W. Bush administration as the Navy’s principal deputy general counsel.
He started his position on Tuesday, January 19.
However, recent news reports revealed that a day later, on Inauguration Day, NSA Director Army Gen. Paul Nakasone placed Ellis on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an inquiry by the Department of Defense inspector general into the circumstances his hiring.
It is no secret that Democrat lawmakers for months opposed Ellis going from an appointed position in the Trump administration to a non-partisan civil service position in the government — a practice commonly referred to as “burrowing in.”
Just days after Ellis’s selection for the position was announced in November, Democrat Sens. Mark Warner (VA) and Jack Reed (RI) requested the Pentagon inspector general investigate his hiring, according to CNN.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also wrote a letter to former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller three days before the inauguration asking him to “cease plans to improperly install” Ellis at the NSA.
And House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) went on CBS News’s Face the Nation that same day to claim that the Trump administration was attempting to “embed people in the civil servants who are political and partisan actors who don’t belong there.”
The former officials also pointed to Democrat-friendly media targeting Ellis, noting a January 13 article by Lawfare’s executive editor, Susan Hennessee, on how to get rid of Ellis.
According to CNN and other establishment media reports, Democrats’ concerns are that Ellis allegedly overruled career officials when reviewing former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book for classified information, that he was allegedly in the room when ex-NSC staffer Alexander Vindman reported his concerns about former President Donald Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president, and his alleged role in informing Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) that U.S. intelligence had swept up Trump’s campaign team during foreign surveillance.
But those who know Ellis well say he is highly-qualified for the position and Democrats are attempting to purge him purely for political reasons, despite their calls for “unity” and their numerous accusations against the Trump administration of political purges and loyalty tests of civil servants.
One of the two former officials said:
Michael is an outstanding guy and he’s known for being a straight shooter. My understanding is that the [hiring] process worked the way it was supposed to, that this process has been ongoing since early 2020, and Michael interviewed with a panel of career lawyers who found that he was completely qualified for the job.
The second former official said that the only irregular thing was that once Ellis was selected, the NSA dragged their feet in putting him in place, amid pressure from Congress.
“Interest from the media or from Pelosi or Schiff complaining is not a valid reason to not give somebody a career position,” the second former official said.
“It’s ironic that they claim to have concerns about the politicization when them putting [Ellis] on blast is entirely antithetical to the merit system principle that they purport to uphold,” the second former official said.
“The double standard and hypocrisy is truly outstanding. I’ve heard from people who are moderates who have come out and said, ‘This is insane, I can’t believe they’re doing this to him.”
Ellis first joined the Trump administration in March 2017, as a special assistant to the president and the NSC’s deputy legal adviser.
Prior to that, he had served as the general counsel on the House intelligence committee under then-chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). Ellis had worked on the committee since 2015, and before that had worked as counsel for the committee’s previous chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) from 2013 to 2015.
The two former officials said Ellis actually had a good working relationship with Schiff for many years on the intelligence committee.
“It’s interesting that Adam Schiff comes out full-on on Michael Ellis when Michael was always good to Schiff,” the first former official said.
“That’s one aspect of this that’s particularly unfortunate,” the second former official said. “He’s kicking a former staffer who he knows is well-qualified and who he worked collaboratively with. Talk about punching down.
“This vendetta that Schiff and Pelosi have for Nunes — I disagree with it, but I get it. But this is really kicking down at somebody’s who is a very capable and dedicated professional and has a family to provide for,” the former official added.
“It just shows the contrast of Biden talking about Kumbaya and everybody getting along and unity [and] what the left will do literally within hours of them getting power.”