Ellis was not a newcomer to the Trump White House. He was originally a White House attorney before Trump handed him the role of senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council in March 2020. As Kerry Eleveld reported at that time, Ellis was considered a “Trump loyalist” who had no experience in intelligence. He was already known as someone who had slipped classified information to Rep. Devin Nunes and for requesting that transcript of Trump’s Ukrainian call be moved to a more secure server. His move to the NSC came shortly after Republicans handed Trump a free pass on his first impeachment—an impeachment that included key witnesses from the NSC who testified to Trump’s attempted blackmail of the Ukrainian president.
Even though Ellis was already in the NSC and there were only days to go, The New York Times reports that former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller scrambled to move Ellis into place over objections. Among other things, Ellis’ appointment seems to be a clear violation of rules against “burrowing,” in which political appointees are assigned supposedly competitive civil service positions that normally carry on between administrations. Insiders have also said that Ellis was given the job over several more experienced attorneys who scored higher and had applied for the position. Why the rush? Well, for one thing, the top attorney has almost total control over that classified server where the transcripts from the Ukraine conversation and other classified conversations are stored.
For the moment, Ellis has been ordered to the sidelines. The Biden White House put Ellis on administrative leave Wednesday evening.
However, if the investigation fails to show that seating Ellis violated regulations, the protections provided to civil service jobs could well see him returning. Which doesn’t mean he would once again be in charge of such critical areas. He may get to stay, but he can definitely be reassigned.