President Donald Trump’s campaign to challenge the results of the election is not merely a salve to his wounded ego but a serious attempt to stay in power—if not from inside the Oval Office for another four years, then through confederates well placed in what he has called the “deep state.”
Trump’s firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday was only the beginning of this effort—and not a long-lasting one, but rather a spiteful poke at a once-kowtowing official who had turned into a dissenting irritant.
More serious is a move, reported in Tuesday’s Washington Post, to make Michael Ellis—senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council and a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump’s most loyal servant on the House Intelligence Committee—the general counsel of the National Security Agency.
This was done at the insistence of the White House, over the objections of the NSA director, Gen. Paul Nakasone, who preferred to promote a professional staffer instead.
Two things are significant about this move. First, the general counsel is a civil service position, meaning Ellis will have protections against being fired for political reasons (thought he could be transferred to a different job) under a new administration.
Second, the NSA—the nation’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency—has the technical tools to spy on American citizens and engage in other illegal and politically motivated acts. (During the Nixon administration, the NSA and CIA spied on political enemies and anti-war protesters.)
The agency’s large staff of lawyers, who were put in place as part of the post-Nixon reforms, stand as the only effective force that blocks this tendency, and they take this job very seriously. Installing a rank partisan as the agency’s top lawyer endangers this thin veneer of safety. read more…