James Hohman writes in the Washington Post about Trump’s nefarious and defiant actions during his lame-duck days in office:

He writes:

Perhaps as consequential as President Trump firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper via tweet on Monday, which has been widely expected for months, was the hiring of Michael Ellis to be the National Security Agency’s general counsel.

As one of the most controversial staffers in the White House over the past four years, Ellis has shown himself to be as much a staunch Trump loyalist as anyone else in the administration. But his new job means that he will no longer be a political appointee. Instead, as a civilian member of the senior executive service, he gets protections that will make it quite difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to fire him.

Burrowing down into what Trump derides as “the deep state” will give Ellis, a former Republican campaign operative, a powerful platform from which he could seek to complicate or undermine the incoming Democratic administration’s agenda. This is a preview of the sort of behavior from Trump that many on Biden’s transition team expect, and fear, during the lame-duck president’s final 71 days in power, even as he refuses to concede defeat.

Christopher Miller arrives at the Pentagon on Monday to take control just moments after Trump tweeted that he had “terminated” Mark Esper and installed Miller as acting secretary of defense. (Adrees Ali/Reuters)Christopher Miller arrives at the Pentagon on Monday to take control just moments after Trump tweeted that he had “terminated” Mark Esper and installed Miller as acting secretary of defense. (Adrees Ali/Reuters)

Ellis worked for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) before joining the National Security Council when Trump took office. In March 2017, Ellis was reportedly one of the people involved in giving Nunes access to classified files related to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Nunes reviewed the records at the White House in the middle of the night. The notorious episode came to be known as “the midnight run.” 


In July 2019, Ellis was allegedly the first person who proposed moving the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president to a special server where fewer people would be able to see that the president had pushed his counterpart in Kyiv to announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter when the topic of Javelin antitank missiles came up.

Then-Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified under oath before Congress that Ellis was behind moving the transcript. But Ellis defied a subpoena to answer questions about his role in the donnybrook and what knowledge he might have had of the freeze on vital military assistance that Congress had approved for Ukraine. Ellis is named in the second article of impeachment that passed the House as a party to Trump’s obstruction of Congress.

After the GOP-controlled Senate voted not to convict the president, Trump ordered the removal of Vindman from the White House and promoted Ellis to be senior director for intelligence on the NSC.

Being general counsel for the NSA is one of the most immensely complicated and critical legal jobs in all of government, but it is somewhat insulated from politics. Ellis will report to the deputy general counsel for intelligence at the Defense Department, a civilian job. That person reports to the DOD general counsel, who is a political appointee. Once Biden’s eventual nominee for that job is confirmed by the Senate, he or she could choose to reassign Ellis to a different civil service position inside the military’s legal architecture. 

“The appointment was made under pressure from the White House,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “NSA Director Paul Nakasone was not in favor of Ellis’s selection, according to three people familiar with the matter. However, the selection was not up to him, they said. … Ellis was selected over two other finalists: acting NSA general counsel Teisha Anthony and Bradley Brooker, acting general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Both are career civil servants.” The Pentagon and White House did not respond to a request for a comment.


Ironically, this is happening as Trump moves aggressively to roll back civil service protections for members of the bureaucracy. But it’s not surprising. Trump trying to burrow people inside the government shows just how much this president sees personnel as policy.

In related news, the top political appointee at the U.S. Agency for International Development told staff during a Monday phone call that three Trump loyalists are being elevated to top positions inside the agency in the waning days of the administration. John Barsa, who holds the title of acting deputy administrator, was formerly USAID’s acting administrator. He was supposed to step down from his position at the helm of the agency last week under the Vacancies Act but got to remain in charge after the White House fired Bonnie Glick, who had been serving as the deputy administrator.

“Glick was not given any reason for her firing but had supported the steps already taken in the transition process required by law,” Yeganeh Torbati and John Hudson report. “USAID officials also learned Monday that Max Primorac, who held previous roles focusing on religious rights in the agency, would be Barsa’s deputy … His title will be ‘senior official performing the duties of the deputy administrator.’ Primorac’s behavior while at USAID over the past two years has raised eyebrows among his colleagues. In 2019, Primorac expressed confidence during a government forum that Trump would win reelection. … And in 2018, just before he joined USAID, Primorac promoted a client’s business interests to a U.N. agency funded by USAID, ProPublica reported. … USAID, which provides billions of dollars of humanitarian assistance to foreign countries ever year, declined to comment.

Trump has also removed the official in charge of the federal program that produces the U.S. government’s definitive reports on climate change. “Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist who had been executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) since July 2015, was told Friday evening to return to his previous position as a scientist at the Energy Department. He had been expected to stay on through the production of the fifth edition of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment,” Jason Samenow, Andrew Freedman and Juliet Eilperin report. “The USGCRP is a program Congress created to help coordinate the climate science programs of 13 federal agencies. … Kuperberg directed that office through the release of the fourth edition of the climate assessment, which detailed the potentially dire consequences for Americans should the country take little action to cut emissions.” That report angered the White House because Trump has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the climate threat.

“Removing Kuperberg could allow the White House to insert someone whose climate science views more closely align with Trump’s,” per Samenow, Freedman and Eilperin. “That may be exactly what’s about to happen, according to Myron Ebell, a climate change contrarian at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is close to the administration. Ebell said in an interview that the job will most likely go to David Legates, a meteorologist from the University of Delaware who was recently appointed to be the deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

“While that is a senior position at NOAA reporting directly to the acting administrator, Legates does not have a role in the climate assessment process while serving in that capacity. … Even if he were to hold the climate research job for just the remaining few months of Trump’s term, Ebell said he could help select the authors of the next assessment and influence its final content that way. Once the assessment’s authors are selected, it can be difficult to change them as the process moves along, Ebell said, regardless of the administration in office at the time.”