burrowing
November 14, 2020

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the Pentagon general counsel has selected Michael Ellis, a White House official and former chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to serve as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, and Susan Hennessey writes at Lawfare that "there is a lot that stinks" about the choice.

In a breakdown of the complex situation, Hennessey explains that the NSA general counsel is a career position that doesn't require Senate confirmation, although the selection process is supposed to remain free from political interference and is supposedly based purely on the candidate's qualifications. But, in this case, there is speculation that the White House pushed for Ellis' appointment, especially because Ellis' resume appears lacking compared to other top candidates for the job including the agency's acting General Counsel Teisha Anthony, Hennessey argues.

Further, Hennessey notes, Ellis "isn't simply a neutral official who happened to occupy a political role," but rather "an overtly political actor involved in some of the famously disturbing episodes of the Trump administration." In short, Hennessey thinks the selection demands more scrutiny and may be an example of the Trump administration attempting to "'burrow,' or improperly convert a political appointee into a career position" that would theoretically last beyond President Trump's upcoming White House exit.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during Trump's impeachment trial that Ellis was the individual who first proposed moving a memo of the president's phone call with Ukrainian President Alexander Vindman to a highly classified server, agrees with his new colleague, Hennessey. Read more at Lawfare. Tim O'Donnell

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