Biden advisers: Trump transition delays putting national security at risk
Senior advisers to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on Friday said that President Trump’s refusal to provide access to government intelligence is putting American national security at risk and could potentially slow the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved.
“Each passing day, the lack of access to current classified operations or backchannel conversations that are happening really puts the American people’s interests as it relates to their national security at risk,” said Yohannes Abraham, an adviser to Biden’s transition team.
Trump’s General Services Administration (GSA) has so far declined to ascertain that Biden won the election, even though the president-elect has won a clear victory in the Electoral College.
The president is challenging the outcome of the election in the courts, making unfounded allegations about the election having been stolen from him.
Until the GSA ascertains Biden as the winner, his transition team cannot interact with government agencies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is waiting on ascertainment before reading Biden into intelligence briefs.
Ascertainment is also needed to free up transition resources and to give access to workspace for the incoming administration.
Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the Biden transition, warned that the incoming administration would be playing catch-up to distribute a critical COVID-19 vaccine because they’re not being included in current planning efforts.
“You need real-time information to deal with the crises of the moment,” Psaki said. “There are areas — on the COVID front, access to ongoing work on distribution plans, vaccine development — that engagement directly with the agencies will significantly help our preparations to govern. … It’s imperative that our team and experts have that access. … Certainly we’d prefer … if the incoming president and administration could have access to the real-time current information and plans.”
Psaki pointed to the 9/11 Commission report that determined a smooth transition process is critical to keeping the nation secure, as the lame-duck session can produce a power vacuum that could be exploited by enemies.
Republicans, led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), have called on Biden to begin receiving the briefings. Lankford said if Biden does not start getting them by Friday, he would intervene.
“Intelligence briefings and access to real-time threat assessments, real-time briefings about our engagements around the world and the threats we’re facing, the fact the incoming president and incoming national security team don’t have access to that, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Lankford and many other Republicans have raised concerns about that,” Psaki said.
“That’s one of the biggest, most important reasons why ascertainment is essential,” she added.
Psaki indicated that the Biden campaign and transition team are not preparing to sue for access.
“While no presidential transition would take any options off the table, that’s certainly not our preference,” Psaki said. “Our preference would be that the GSA ascertainment happens, the letter is signed and we all move forward.”
“We just want access to intelligence information, threat assessments and ongoing work on Covid so we can prepare to govern, bring the American people together and get the pandemic under control,” she added. “With every day that passes, it becomes more concerning that our national security team and president-elect and vice president-elect don’t have access to those threat assessments, intelligence briefings, real-time assessments to our engagements around the world … to prepare to govern. It’s important they have access to that information.”