Last-minute Trump appointee at NSA put on administrative leave due to inspector general probe

National Security Agency General Counsel Michael Ellis, who was installed by former President Donald Trump during his final days in office, was put on administrative leave Wednesday because his appointment is now the subject of a Department of Defense inspector general investigation, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday demanded former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller “immediately cease” his plans to install the Trump loyalist as the NSA’s general counsel. She called the move “highly suspect” and argued it represents a “disturbing disregard” for the country’s national security.

“I ask that you immediately cease plans to improperly install Michael Ellis as the new NSA General Counsel,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Miller on Sunday.

The California Democrat also said she was calling for a probe “into the circumstances of the NSA General Counsel selection process” by the department’s acting inspector general.

“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,” the letter read.

Ellis had officially started in his role as NSA general counsel on Tuesday. CNN has reached out to Ellis and the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.

The last-minute installation of Ellis drew considerable scrutiny because the role of general counsel at the country’s largest intelligence agency is a civil service position, not a political role, meaning it could be difficult for the Biden administration to remove Ellis.

The strategy of trying to install political loyalists into career positions is known as “burrowing” in the government.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jack Reed had requested an investigation from the Pentagon’s acting inspector general within days of Ellis being picked for the job in November, which came shortly after Trump fired then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper via Twitter.

“The combination of timing, comparative lack of experience of the candidate, the reported qualifications of the other finalists, and press accounts of White House involvement create a perception that political influence or considerations may have played an undue role in a merit-based civil service selection process,” they wrote in a letter at the time.

Before joining the Trump administration, Ellis served as the head counsel to California Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican who is one of Trump’s staunchest supporters.

Ellis then became a lawyer with the National Security Council, refusing to testify as part of the House’s 2019 impeachment inquiry. In March 2020, Ellis became the senior director for intelligence on the NSC, joining other Trump loyalists in key intelligence positions.

This story has been updated with additional information Wednesday.