Kevin McCarthy Calls on Pentagon to Restore NSA General Counsel Michael Ellis to Active Service

February 2, 2021 Updated: February 2, 2021

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has urged U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to restore attorney Michael Ellis to active service as the National Security Agency general counsel after reports that Ellis was placed on administrative leave, with McCarthy arguing that Ellis’s sidelining “appears to have been the result of undue political influence.”

“I urge you to reconsider and reverse the recent decision by the National Security Agency (NSA) to place its General Counsel, a career employee selected through the merit system process, on administrative leave,” McCarthy wrote in his letter to Austin. McCarthy also took aim at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), alleging that she “politicized an Intelligence Community position by demanding the removal of a national security professional to satisfy her vendetta against the Trump administration.”

“This is hardly the message of unity that President Biden called for in his Inaugural Address,” McCarthy added.

Ellis’s appointment came on the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration and after Pelosi sent a letter to then acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller demanding that he “immediately cease” his plans to install Ellis, calling the move “highly suspect.”

“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,” Pelosi wrote.

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks to reporters in Washington on Jan. 15, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

The NSA told several news outlets on Jan. 17 that it is moving forward with Ellis’s placement, while the Pentagon noted in a statement that not proceeding with a merit-based appointment was unjustified.

“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,” the Pentagon stated.

Ellis joined the White House in 2017 and later became an attorney for the National Security Council in 2019. Some news outlets described him as a “loyalist” to former President Donald Trump.

McCarthy defended Ellis as a “highly qualified applicant,” who served as a naval intelligence officer for over a decade, while characterizing calls for Ellis’s removal as part of a “personal and partisan attack.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he opposes the NSA’s hiring of Ellis as its top lawyer, telling CBS News on Jan. 17 that the move is part of the Trump administration’s “effort to embed people in the civil service who are political and partisan actors.”

Pelosi echoed Schiff’s allegation in her letter, characterizing the staffing move as part of a long-standing practice called “burrowing,” in which an outgoing administration transitions political appointees into more secure civil service positions, giving them protection from dismissal by an incoming administration and allowing them to continue to serve and, potentially, influence policy.

“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,” Pelosi wrote.

McCarthy, in his letter, also called for an investigation into whether the placement of Ellis on administrative leave “was motivated by political influence.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Pelosi’s office for comment on McCarthy’s allegations but did not receive a response by publication.

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