Biden Inauguration Live: The LatestJanuary 17, 2021
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The National Security Agency is moving forward with hiring a Trump administration loyalist, the agency said Sunday, after the acting defense secretary ordered he be made the spy agency’s top lawyer.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller had ordered the agency’s director, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, to install Michael Ellis as its general counsel, giving him a 6 p.m. Saturday deadline.
The deadline came and went with the National Security Agency remaining silent. But the agency said in a statement on Sunday that “Mr. Ellis accepted his final job offer yesterday afternoon. N.S.A. is moving forward with his employment.” Mr. Ellis has not been formally sworn in, and it is not clear when that would happen.
Mr. Ellis has been accused of having a hand in one of the more contentious legal decisions the Trump administration made: the attempt to stop John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, from publishing a damning book about the president.
Mr. Ellis’s allies had pushed for him to be installed before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is inaugurated. While it will be difficult to fire Mr. Ellis under Civil Service rules, the Biden administration could easily reassign him to another, less important post.
A senior official at the National Security Council and a former top lawyer to Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Ellis applied months ago to be the National Security Agency’s general counsel.
He was one of three finalists, although he did not get the highest score from the panel evaluating the candidates, according to people familiar with the hiring process. Nevertheless, White House officials told the Defense Department general counsel that the administration favored Mr. Ellis for the job.
Positioning a political appointee in a Civil Service job is a complex procedure requiring various approvals to prevent favoritism in the hiring process. With Mr. Ellis, the Office of Personnel Management eventually determined that the general counsel position was exempt from a policy requiring special approval, though those deliberations slowed the process. Mr. Ellis also had to seek a new security clearance.
Although General Nakasone was not pleased that Mr. Ellis was chosen over career officials at the National Security Agency, he did not actively block or slow the process of installing Mr. Ellis in the position, according to two people familiar with the matter. He did however, insist that all procedures were followed and all approvals be put in writing.
Frustrated by what they saw as a slow-rolling of Mr. Ellis’s installation, the Pentagon ordered the National Security Agency to swear him in, a move The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
Although Mr. Ellis…