Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: A former congressional aide who rose to prominence helping House Republicans attempt to discredit the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia will lead the Pentagon's transition to the next administration, the Defense Department confirmed on Tuesday.

Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and a loyalist to President Trump, will be the "touchpoint" for acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and ensure he "has insight into what's going on and to make sure that the transition is successful," top DOD spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.

CNN first reported on Patel's new role.

Who is Patel?: Patel has only been in the Pentagon for two weeks, serving as chief of staff to Miller. He was installed days after Trump fired Mark Esper as Defense secretary. Esper's former chief of staff Jen Stewart resigned a day after he left.

When working for Nunes, Patel was linked to efforts to spread conspiracy theories about Joe Biden, according to evidence uncovered by the House impeachment inquiry.

Before becoming Miller's chief of staff, Patel served as senior director for counterterrorism for Trump's National Security Council. He also worked in the office of former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.

Transition is underway: With the Government Services Administration on Monday formally acknowledging Biden's election win, Trump administration officials are now allowed to speak with the incoming Biden team and coordinate a changeover.

Tom Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services, has taken on the role as director of the Defense Department transition task force, he told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. He will be in charge of providing office space, communications and access to information for the Biden-Harris team.

Muir said that the head of the Biden-Harris team reached out to him the night prior and the two had their first meeting Tuesday morning via teleconference.


SENATE DEMS PRESS VA FOR VACCINE DISTRIBUTION PLAN: Lawmakers want the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to release its plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak among its patients and a strategy to distribute a vaccine when one is available.

The department "must be ready to act to protect the health of veterans, VA staff, and their families. VA must have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure the safe, equitable, and smooth distribution of a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine," Democrats on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee wrote in a Monday letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

The numbers now: The VA on Tuesday reported nearly 13,000 active coronavirus cases and 4,685 deaths among its patients. The department also passed 100,000 confirmed cases since the beginning of the outbreak.

What the lawmakers want: The lawmakers asked Wilkie whether the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated how many initial vaccine doses it will allocate for the VA, as well as how the VA will then distribute its initial doses among staff and veterans.

"For COVID-19 vaccine distribution to succeed there must be a well-organized plan to meet the needs of all veterans and their providers," wrote the group, led by committee ranking member Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

"I understand VA is developing a draft plan on COVID-19 vaccine allocation and distribution, but that it is not ready for release to Congress or the public yet. ... I am concerned VA is behind the curve."

Background on vaccine efforts: The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, though three experimental vaccines have shown promise. Drugmaker AstraZeneca announced on Monday that its vaccine candidate is up to 90 percent effective, while Pfizer and Moderna have announced 95 percent efficacy rates for their vaccine candidates.

President Trump and his administration have maintained that once a vaccine is available it will be distributed to Americans free of charge, though priority would first be given to front-line health workers and vulnerable populations.  

The VA's response: In a statement to The Hill, VA press secretary Christina Noel said the department "is working diligently, both internally and externally with its [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] partners, to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure availability of COVID-19 vaccine across the VA system as soon as the product becomes available." 

Noel added that under the phased plan, immunizations for veterans and staff "will be based on CDC guidelines," which include "risk of acquiring infection, risk of severe illness and death, risk of transmitting disease [and] risk of harm to society." 


WHITE HOUSE SIGNS OFF ON BIDEN RECEIVING INTELLIGENCE BRIEFS: President Trump has signed off on President-elect Joe Biden receiving classified intelligence reports, the latest sign the White House is allowing the transition to move forward after a delay. 

A spokesperson for the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said Tuesday afternoon that the White House gave ODNI permission to provide Biden with the President's Daily Brief, or PDB, to help support the transition process.

The PDB is a written summary of high-level intelligence that the president receives on a daily basis.

A White House official confirmed that Trump, who has refused to concede and continues to challenge the results of the election in court, signed off on distributing the brief to Biden. 

When will briefs start?: It is unclear when Biden will receive his first intelligence report. Trump's approval was necessary in order for Biden to receive the daily report.

A spokesman for the Biden transition declined to comment. Biden, who introduced his national security team on Tuesday, later told reporters that he has not started intelligence briefings but said they had been offered. He said he planned to receive them on a "regular basis."

Context: The move comes one day after the General Services Administration (GSA) informed Biden that the Trump administration was ready to begin the transition process.

"Following the statutory direction of the Presidential Transition Act, ODNI will provide requested support to the transition team," the ODNI spokesperson said.

Biden's agency review team is expected to be on site Monday as part of the transition process.

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, sent a letter to Biden on Monday saying that he would have access to federal resources and services to help facilitate the presidential transition.

Biden was projected the winner of the presidential election more than two weeks ago; Murphy had withstood considerable pressure to "ascertain" Biden as the winner, an action necessary to allow federal resources to flow to the transition team and give him access to federal agencies and officials.

Related stories from The Hill:

- Biden vows shift from Trump with national security team

- Biden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team



The Atlantic Council will hold a webinar on "Lessons for Afghanistan from Lebanon's Peace Process," with Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani and former U.N. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, at 9 a.m.

The National Museum of the American Indian will hold a virtual exhibition: "Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces," beginning at 11 a.m.



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