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Former Trump, Nunes Aide Lands Top Legal Job at Rumble Platform

Dec. 9, 2021, 4:10 PM

Rumble Inc., a video sharing and streaming platform used by former President Donald Trump’s media company, has hired former National Security Agency legal chief Michael Ellis as its general counsel.

The Yale Law School graduate joined the White House in early 2017 as a senior associate counsel to the president and deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council. By mid-2020, Ellis held the role of senior director of intelligence at the NSC.

Ellis was previously a former general counsel to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence under Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Nunes will leave Congress in January to become CEO of the former president’s media operation, Trump Media & Technology Group Corp., the company announced Dec. 6.

Rumble, backed by conservative lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs Peter Thiel and J.D. Vance, has been likened to a right-wing alternative to Alphabet Inc.-owned YouTube. Based in Toronto, the company disclosed last month it plans to also open a U.S. headquarters in Longboat Key, Fla., near Sarasota.

Blank-check company Digital World Acquisition Corp. and the Trump media company its planning to merge with are using Rumble for cloud service distribution, Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald LP, said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Dec. 3.

Cantor Fitzgerald is sponsoring a separate special purpose acquisition company, CF Acquisition Corp. VI, which agreed earlier this month to merge with Rumble.

Rumble’s hire of Ellis comes roughly a year after he was appointed to be general counsel of the NSA. Ellis resigned from that position earlier this year after President Joe Biden put him on administrative leave.

“Michael is a battle-tested lawyer who understands the inner workings of government at the highest levels,” Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski said in a statement announcing Ellis’ hire late Wednesday.

Brian Doherty, a Rumble spokesman, said Ellis joined the company in November and will be based in Washington. He will also fill the role of corporate secretary at the company.

Vance, Thiel

At Rumble, Ellis joins a company that in May received an investment from Narya Capital Management LLC, a Cincinnati-based venture capital firm co-founded by Vance and Colin Greenspon, a former senior associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Vance, a former Sidley Austin associate and “Hillbilly Elegy” author, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio. Thiel, a billionaire, fellow Narya investor, and former associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, also took part in the Rumble fundraising round.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher and DLA Piper are advising Rumble on its proposed tie-up with the Cantor Fitzgerald-backed SPAC. The latter has turned to Hughes Hubbard & Reed and Canadian law firm Bennett Jones for outside counsel on the $2.1 billion transaction, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022.

Rumble’s SPAC merger follows an October deal between Digital World and Trump’s media company TMTG, advised by Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, to launch a new social media platform called Truth Social.

TMTG tapped Florida litigator Lori Heyer-Bednar to be its chief legal officer ahead of its union with Digital World.

Digital World disclosed this week that the Securities and Exchange Commission has sought information related to its proposed combination with TMTG. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a longtime Trump adversary, has said publicly she’s concerned the SPAC’s deal with the former president may have skirted U.S. securities rules.

Bolton Book

At the NSC, Ellis took part in the review of a book manuscript written by former national security adviser John Bolton, a former of counsel at Kirkland & Ellis. Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” was published last year.

In June, Biden’s Justice Department dropped litigation against Bolton over his book’s alleged inclusion of classified information.

A month earlier, the conservative Heritage Foundation announced that Ellis would join the Washington-based think tank’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies as a visiting fellow for law and technology.

Ellis was available for that position after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanded in mid-January that the U.S. Department of Defense halt plans to install him as the top lawyer at NSA in the final hours of the Trump administration.

Pelosi also requested that the Pentagon’s inspector general investigate how Ellis came to be appointed for the position.

The Pentagon’s inspector general on Oct. 21 released a report finding no wrongdoing in the hiring of Ellis for the top legal role at the NSA but recommended that another inquiry be conducted into his handling of classified materials.

Ellis was tapped for the NSA job by Paul Ney Jr., a former general counsel at the Defense Department who in October took a new top legal role at space infrastructure company Momentus Inc., which is also going public via a SPAC deal that has attracted regulatory scrutiny from the SEC.

Ney and Ellis are the latest in a series of former Trump administration lawyers to find new jobs this year in the private sector.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com