A Trump loyalist has been appointed as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, a sign that the administration is trying to help its political appointees land career posts that they can stay in even after a new president is sworn in, American officials said.
The appointee, Michael Ellis, had served as a National Security Council lawyer and most recently as its senior director for intelligence. Formerly a lawyer for the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, he gained notoriety as one of two White House aides who helped his previous boss, Representative Devin Nunes, gain access to intelligence reports in early 2017 to advance President Trump’s political goals.
Mr. Ellis was one of three finalists for the National Security Agency job. He was chosen by the general counsel for the Department of Defense, which the National Security Agency is a part of, after White House officials made clear that Mr. Ellis was their preferred candidate, according to a person briefed on the decision.
Mr. Ellis’s appointment was reported earlier by The Washington Post.
The two other finalists were the current acting National Security Agency general counsel, Teisha M. Anthony, and the acting general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Brad Brooker.
The position has been vacant since the previous general counsel, Glenn S. Gerstell, stepped down in February. The post is traditionally apolitical; the National Security Agency fiercely guards its reputation of being outside politics, and it is not clear how well a partisan lawyer will sit with the staff.
The general counsel job is a Civil Service post, and it would be difficult for President-Elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s administration to remove Mr. Ellis. However, Mr. Ellis could be reassigned to another legal job in the military.
The National Security Agency declined to comment, and the National Security Council staff did not return a request for comment.
In the summer of 2019, Mr. Ellis was a deputy to John A. Eisenberg, the National Security Council legal adviser. As White House officials raised concerns about the shadow Ukraine policy run by Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Eisenberg regularly consulted Mr. Ellis about what to do.