The Biden administration put Michael Ellis, a Trump loyalist who was sworn in Tuesday as the National Security Agency’s senior lawyer, on administrative leave on Wednesday, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Mr Ellis’ last-minute appointment was ordered over the weekend by then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller, prompting President Nancy Pelosi to call for an Inspector General investigation into his selection and ask the Pentagon to cease his swearing-in.
The Trump administration, unsurprisingly, ignored Ms Pelosi and Mr Ellis started work on Tuesday. But his work at the National Security Agency lasted less than two full days.
He will remain on administrative leave while his hiring is investigated by the Pentagon Inspector General.
Mr. Ellis’ dismissal was reported earlier on Twitter by CBS News.
Mr Ellis was a former staff member of Representative Devin Nunes of California, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and an early member of the Trump administration. He has been involved in several high-profile cases, including providing information to Mr. Nunes and putting the reconstructed transcript of President Donald J. Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart into a highly confidential computer system.
In November, the Pentagon selected Mr. Ellis, then a staff member of the National Security Agency, to become its attorney general, a civil service position that goes beyond administration. Trump administration officials had asked the Pentagon’s senior lawyer to choose Mr. Ellis, according to people familiar with the process.
A myriad of federal rules are in place to attempt to prevent policy appointees from assuming permanent public service positions, a practice derisively referred to as “digging.” Ms Pelosi accused Mr Miller of helping Mr Ellis burrow.
But he was not immediately installed as his hiring was reviewed by the Office of Personnel Management, and he applied for a new security clearance. This delay frustrated Mr. Miller, prompting him to order Mr. Ellis to be sworn in.
After the National Security Agency announced on Sunday that it would comply with Mr Miller’s order, Ms Pelosi and other officials called it an offense.
People familiar with the hiring process said that even though Mr Ellis, a Yale-trained attorney, was a finalist, he did not get the highest score and a career manager should have been selected for the post.
Mr Ellis will be difficult to fire, although an investigation by the Inspector General into his appointment could make his dismissal – or resignation – possible.
However, even if Mr Ellis’ appointment passed with the Inspector General, former officials said the Biden administration would not have to allow him to take over the National Security Agency post. He may be reassigned to various legal positions within the Department of Defense, such as reviewing contracts with defense companies or overseeing military construction agreements at remote bases.