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Remember that time in 2017 when Rep. Devin Nunes ninja-ed out of an Uber to race over to the White House for classified info on the Russia investigation, only to hold a press conference on the White House driveway purporting to bring that same info to the White House? Do you think the asshole who gave him that info should installed as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency just hours before Trump leaves office? What if we told you NSA Chief Paul Nakasone was vehemently against it?

And yet! Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller just ordered Nakasone to do just that, as Donald Trump's minions do their best to break all the shit they can't stuff in their pockets on the way out the door.

The Washington Post was first to report that Miller had forced the NSA to put Nunes's former House Intel lawyer Michael Ellis in the job over the weekend. Ellis was selected for the position in November — i.e. right after the election — despite scoring lower in the civil service interview process than other competitors. The New York Times confirms that Ellis was "one of three finalists, although he did not receive the highest score from the panel evaluating the candidate." Despite that, the Pentagon insists that the hiring process was entirely regular and in order.


"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," an anonymous DOD spokesman said.

Which is nonsense on its face. The current Principal Deputy General Counsel, Teisha M. Anthony, joined the NSA as an intelligence analyst in 1990 and has been a lawyer since 1996. Ellis didn't even graduate from law school until 2011. It's a safe bet Anthony wouldn't have to take a crash course on classification the way Ellis did so he could overrule career officials to declare John Bolton's book double super duper classified.

Nor is Anthony under investigation for retaliation against a co-worker, unlike Ellis, who is accused of retaliating against Yevgeny Vindman, twin brother of Alexander Vindman, for his role in the Ukraine impeachment scandal. In fact, as a lawyer for the National Security Council, Ellis's fingerprints are all over the hinky Ukraine shit, from parking the transcript of the "perfect, perfect phone call" on the top-secret bin Laden server, to burying the whistleblower complaint, to stonewalling Congress.

The naked effort to "burrow" a political hack into a career position with civil service protections, particularly against the wishes of the agency head, has not gone unnoticed. Today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Miller asking him to halt Ellis's installation and indicating that she'd initiated an inspector general investigation into how exactly Ellis got hired if he wasn't the top choice:

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. 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. 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. 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. Therefore, this placement should not move forward.

The whole thing reeks to high heaven, as Lawfare executive editor and former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey told the Post. "This is a transparent effort to subvert civil service rules. No one could possibly defend this apparent hiring process as being free from impermissible political interference. If the NSA director has been given a direct order to install Ellis in this role, despite serious concerns regarding the legality of doing so, then he has no alternative."

There's also the question of why it's taken so long for the NSA to onboard this turkey if he was selected in November. Just Security editor Ryan Goodman noted on Twitter that the original story referred to a delay for "administrative procedures, including taking a polygraph test," and wondered if there might be some problem with the lie detector. Good question!

If Trump's lackeys do manage to shoehorn Ellis in over the expressed reservations of his immediate boss, he will get some civil service protections against immediate firing. But President Biden will be able to transfer Ellis immediately to another senior position in the Defense Department. Perhaps one in Alaska? We hear the weather there is lovely in February.

[WaPo / NYT / Just Security]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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