Michael Ellis is a highly experienced, superbly qualified intelligence professional. He has a strong record of accomplishment in all three branches of government.
Last year, Ellis, a family friend, was selected to be the general counsel at the National Security Agency (NSA). But now, after Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff demanded that he be removed, the Biden administration has placed him on administrative leave. The Washington Post and other left-liberal media outlets have assisted Pelosi and Schiff by attacking Ellis.
The attack on Ellis’ selection lacks merit. The attacks on his character are disgusting. This post deals with the former.
The process whereby Ellis was selected to be the NSA general counsel began in January 2020 and lasted eleven months. Ellis was found to be qualified for the position by a panel of career lawyers before any political appointee was involved in the process.
That finding was more than justified. The NSA GC deals with the intersection of law and national security policy. Ellis’ credentials in both areas are impressive and unassailable.
A Dartmouth grad, Ellis earned his law degree at Yale. After that, he clerked for Amul Thapar (then a U.S. district court judge, now a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) and Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit. Both jurists are Bush 43 appointees. Both have, at various times, have been listed as potential Supreme Court nominees.
After that, Ellis was hired by Rep. Mike Rogers as a staff attorney for the House Intelligence Committee. He served on that committee for four years, first under Rogers and then under Rep. Devin Nunes. He became chief counsel for the committee.
Ellis’ accomplishments on the intel committee include his role as lead staffer for the bipartisan committee report on the Snowden disclosures and his participation in drafting bipartisan Intelligence Authorization Acts, FISA reform bills, and cybersecurity information sharing laws.
Ellis developed expertise on FISA and other intelligence collection authorities. He regularly briefed then-Ranking Member Schiff when Democratic staffers were unavailable.
In 2017, Ellis moved to the White House counsel’s office. He became senior associate counsel to President Trump and deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council (NSC).
On top of all this, Ellis has been a Navy Reserve intelligence officer since 2007. In that capacity, he wrote an article for the President’s Daily Brief
Ellis’ credentials in the areas of law and national security are obvious and stellar. Clearly, he is very well qualified to serve as general counsel at the NSA.
However, Ellis’ selection for the NSA GC job didn’t sit well with President Trump’s enemies. Consequently, NSA slow rolled it.
After being selected in November, Ellis passed a polygraph exam the next month and was granted a security clearance. Yet, NSA refused to appoint him, in violation of merit system principles. Only after the Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered NSA to appoint Ellis did his appointment become effective.
Pelosi, Schiff, and their allies in the left-wing media outlets portray the Trump Defense Department’s involvement in Ellis’ selection as problematic. In reality, the Defense Department’s general counsel selects his counterpart at the NSA to ensure that the NSA GC is not beholden to the NSA Director, and thus can “speak truth to power” at the Agency.
As far as I can tell, there is no evidence of improper political influence in connection with the selection of this highly qualified candidate. Nor is there anything exceptional about the NSA GC having served in government in political roles prior to his appointment. For example, Glenn Gerstell (NSA GC, 2015-2020) was an Obama bundler. Rajesh De (NSA GC, 2012-2015) was Obama’s Staff Secretary.
Nonetheless, Pelosi and Schiff screamed foul at Ellis’ appointment. Pelosi demanded that acting Defense Secretary Miller block Ellis from serving as NSA GC.
Miller refused to do so. However, on the day Joe Biden was inaugurated, and one day after the publication of a flawed Washington Post hit piece, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the NSA director, placed Ellis on administrative leave.
In his inaugural address, Joe Biden talked about unity. But actions speak louder than words. The Democrats’ mistreatment of Michael Ellis shows the real face of the new administration — nasty, vindictive, and intolerant. A good man and an outstanding lawyer is being persecuted and unfairly maligned.
The Washington Post has tried to justify this treatment by airing the left’s grievances with Ellis’ work during the Trump administration. (It identifies no problem with work on the House Intelligence Committee.) I will discuss these grievances in another post.