The Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General concluded that "no improper influence" took place in the selection of Michael Ellis as general counsel to the National Security Agency during former President Donald Trump's final days in office following a review.
The report, which was issued on Thursday, "examined the process to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC and the placement of Mr. Ellis on administrative leave pending an NSA inquiry into alleged security incidents involving Mr. Ellis by General (GEN) Paul M. Nakasone, U.S. Army, U.S. Cyber Command, Commander, and NSA Director."
It adds that "In total, eight DoD officials evaluated Mr. Ellis’s application in three levels of review. In the first level of review, Mr. Ellis made the list of qualified applicants. In the second level of review, all the DoD officials who evaluated Mr. Ellis’s packet placed his application in the top 3 of the 29 applicants. In the third level of review, the selection panel interviewed Mr. Ellis and two other candidates. Mr. Paul C. Ney, then-DoD GC and the selecting official for the NSA GC position, had conversations with two then-White House administration officials who supervised Mr. Ellis, about Mr. Ellis’s work performance and qualifications."
The report notes that "We consider those conversations appropriate and consistent with a candidate’s supervisors providing unsolicited references to selecting officials during the hiring process. Mr. Ney decided to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC. As required by DoD policy, Mr. Ney consulted with GEN Nakasone about the decision. None of the witnesses involved in the hiring process, including Mr. Ney, indicated that they were under any pressure by the then White House administration or anyone else to select Mr. Ellis."
The investigators "concluded that there was no improper influence or failure to comply with DoD guidance in the process and decision to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC."
The report also states that deputy director of the NSA George Barnes notified Nakasone of "two alleged security incidents involving Mr. Ellis," which prompted Nakasone to place him on administrative leave. In one of these alleged incidents, Ellis "created or directed the copying" of NSA notebooks that contained sensitive information "without NSA knowledge, consent, or control."
A second alleged incident involved an NSA employee who tried to obtain a classified document from Ellis, which he refused to return and instead "retained … for White House Archives." The report concluded that Nakasone’s actions were "appropriate and within his authority."
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