Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on “Diversity in the Intelligence Community.” The virtue-signaling session alone raises grave concerns over the seriousness with which our nation’s leaders view their job of protecting America’s national security. But equally concerning are the details exposed during Rep. Devin Nunes’s questioning of Gen. Paul Nakasone—details that establish the U.S. military complex places politics over all else.
Shortly after leaders from the intelligence community concluded their opening platitudes praising the importance of diversity and inclusion, Nunes confronted Nakasone with evidence that the current director of the National Security Agency engaged in “political discrimination in the workplace.” Referencing the recently released inspector general’s report on the selection of Naval officer Michael Ellis for the civil service position of general counsel for the National Security Agency, Nunes walked Nakasone through his disgraceful thwarting of Ellis’s career.
As the IG report from the Department of Defense Office detailed, in January 2020, the NSA announced the vacancy of the general counsel position. That opening qualifies as a civil service position, meaning political considerations are off-limits. After a first level of review discarded the unqualified candidates, Ellis and two other applicants were rated by a three-member committee as the top candidates for the position.
After interviewing the three candidates, Paul Ney, the general counsel for the Defense Department, assessed Ellis as the best candidate for the job. Under Department of Defense rules, Ney held sole authority to select the individual to fill the NSA general counsel position. Yet almost immediately Nakasone began interfering in the appointment.
First, in August 2020, Nakasone requested that Ney defer announcing Ellis’s selection until after the presidential election. The staffing process to onboard Ellis began on November 9, 2020, but was not yet public when the next day the Washington Post reported — falsely, as the IG’s report established last week — that “the appointment was made under pressure from the White House.” The same Post article reported that “NSA Director Paul Nakasone was not in favor of Ellis’s selection, according to three people familiar with the matter.”
Susan Hennessey, formerly from the Russia collusion hoax headquarters of the Lawfare blog and now a political appointee in the Department of Justice’s national security division, pushed the Post’s fake news further, writing, “While important details remain unclear, media accounts include numerous indications of irregularity in the process by which Ellis was selected for the job, including interference by the White House.” Hennessey then called for an investigation.
A few days later, Democrat Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jack Reed requested an inspector general investigation into “the process for the recent selection of Mr. Ellis for the position of NSA GC.” In making the request, the senators referenced “publicly reported facts” and “press accounts” “as the basis for their concern of improper political influence in the selection process or possible irregularities.”
As of January 2021, Ellis had still not been appointed. Then, on January 15, 2021, even after being informed that the Office of Personnel and Management had “conducted a merit staffing review and determined Mr. Ellis’s selection complied with applicable civil service laws and DoD policies,” Nakasone wrote a memorandum to the undersecretary of defense stating he intended to wait to complete the appointment of Ellis until the IG had completed its review of the hiring process.
Upon reading Nakasone’s memorandum, Ney, who remember has the ultimate hiring authority, wrote to Nakasone, stating: “Your concerns do not supersede the merit system principles or process. At least some of the concern you expressed in today’s and your earlier memorandum to [the Under Secretary of Defense] has no basis in fact, while some of your stated concerns appears to be inappropriately injecting partisan politics into the merit system process.”
Ney then advised the acting secretary of defense of the situation and requested he direct Nakasone to appoint Ellis as the NSA general counsel. On January 15, 2021, the acting secretary of defense told Nakasone to appoint Ellis to the position no later than January 16, 2021, which then meant Ellis was to report for duty on January 19, 2021.
The next day, January 17, 2021, which was a Sunday, NSA Deputy Director George Barnes informed Nakasone of two alleged security incidents involving Ellis. On January 19, 2021, Ellis reported for duty, and at that time NSA security officials “re-indoctrinated him into Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI), including multiple SCI compartments.”
Joe Biden was inaugurated the next day, and hours later Nakasone placed Ellis on administrative leave pending completion of the NSA security inquiry of the two alleged incidents and the IG’s review of Ellis’s selection and hiring. At the time, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway detailed the inauguration-day political sidelining of Ellis by Nakasone, which months later, on April 16, 2021, prompted Ellis to resign.
Yesterday, however, was the first time Nakasone could be publicly confronted with the facts as revealed by the inspector general’s report. Nunes promptly put the matter to him:
These allegations of improper political influence on Ellis’ hiring came from anonymous sources who told the Washington Post, among other things, that you opposed Lieutenant Commander Ellis’s hiring. These anonymous sources had remarkable insight into your thought process. So what happened here was someone close to you planted a fake news story claiming the White House improperly pressured the NSA to hire Lieutenant Commander Ellis. Then, as detailed by the IG, Democrats in Congress cited the story to gin up an IG investigation. And then you cited the investigation to sabotage Lieutenant Commander Ellis’s hiring. It’s a cute trick.
So you were being forced to hire Ellis against your will and you were improperly trying to delay his hiring by citing an IG investigation. Then just two days after acting Secretary of Defense directs you to hire Ellis, in a miraculous coincidence of timing your Deputy, Mr. Barnes, informs you of two allegations that Ellis had mishandled classified information. . . Then just five days later on President Biden’s inauguration day, you placed Ellis on administrative leave.
Under questioning from Nunes, Nakasone admitted that at the time he did not think there was improper political influence by the Trump White House—just as the IG report found. Further, the IG report concluded Nakasone improperly considered the investigation into Ellis’s appointment when placing him on administrative leave. But Nakasone sought refuge in the IG report’s conclusion that he acted within his authority in placing Ellis on leave based on the accusations of mishandling classified information.
However, as Nunes pointed out, it was Nakasone’s deputy who “miraculously” raised those accusations two days after Nakasone was directed to hire Ellis. Even after knowing of those supposed serious accusations, Ellis’s security clearance was reupped. Then, before the investigation into the allegations could be completed, the NSA dropped the probe once Ellis resigned. That is, if any investigation took place.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Nunes told The Federalist that he “highly doubts if the NSA took any investigatory steps whatsoever, since the whole investigation was just a pretext to keep Ellis out of a job.” Rather, “top NSA officials ginned up fake investigations of Michael Ellis and abused the clearance process to sabotage his appointment at the NSA,” the California Republican said. “It’s the exact kind of political machinations that our intelligence agencies are not supposed to do.”
Yet over the last five years we’ve seen this scenario play out time and again—and each time the Washington Post seems first on the scene. This cozy relationship might serve the deep state and their political cronies in the press, but it most definitely does not serve our national security interests.