Officials are alarmed by President Donald Trump's efforts to jam one of his loyalists into an important role -- and warning that Joe Biden would not easily be able to displace him.
President Donald Trump tapped one of his White House attorneys, Michael Ellis, to be installed as the senior lawyer for the National Security Agency, just moments after firing his Secretary of Defense -- and the top Democrats on the Senate intelligence and armed services committees are trying block the nomination, reported the Daily Beast.
“Trump is burning the whole house down,” said one former senior national security official. “He’s burning it down and trying to take everything with him.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Jack Reed (D-RI), the ranking Democrat on the armed services committee, wrote to the Defense Department's inspector general Tuesday demanding an investigation into the Ellis nomination.
“The publicly reported facts, if accurate, constitute prima facie evidence of political influence in the selection for the top legal position at NSA or, alternatively, indicate possible irregularities which would be of great concern to our committees,” the senators wrote.
Ellis, who would serve as the NSA's top lawyer, was among the Trump aides who helped Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) cook up the "unmasking" scandal to undercut the Russia probe, and he was implicated in behind-the-scenes efforts to suspiciously classify records of Trump's infamous phone call with Ukranian President Volodomyr Zelensky -- which eventually led to impeachment.
“He has friends in high places who don’t give a damn about rules and norms,” said a former intelligence official.
The NSA general counsel has access to the agency's surveillance, and Trump reportedly wants any information he believes would exculpate him or feed his narratives.
His desire to release some of that classified information has reportedly put Trump into conflict with CIA Director Gina Haspel and other intelligence officials.
Ellis, if he's installed, would be authorized to pass surveillance materials to Nunes or other political allies who have the proper security clearance, according to two former intelligence officials.
However, one of them said, he would be "playing with fire" by the doing that, because that could give Biden cause to fire him despite the position's civil service protections.
“He doesn’t have the last word on classifying something at all," said one former senior intelligence official. "He can’t order the surveillance of anything or anybody, and he can’t stop surveillance on anything and anybody."