Ex-national security officials warn of risks in Biden transition delay

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A group of more than 150 former national security officials who served under President Donald Trump and other Republican and Democratic administrations is warning that the government’s delay in recognizing Joe Biden as president-elect poses a “serious risk to national security.”

In a letter sent to the General Services Administration on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, the former officials urged the agency to officially name Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the apparent president-elect and vice president-elect so that they can access information “needed to address pressing national security issues, such as the President’s Daily Briefing and pending decisions on possible uses of military force.”

The letter comes as Trump continues to refuse to concede the election, resulting in the presidential transition effectively being put on hold for the first time in two decades. It was signed by 161 former officials, including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden; retired Gen. Wesley Clark; former Deputy NSA Director Chris Inglis; and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.

Several former Trump administration national security and diplomatic officials also signed on, including former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Doug Silliman; former NSC senior director for counterterrorism Javed Ali; former DHS assistant secretary of counterterrorism Elizabeth Neumann; former DHS deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy Tom Warrick; and former U.S. ambassador to the U.K. Lewis Lukens.

By law, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, has to formally recognize Biden as the president-elect before his transition team is allowed to interface with the agencies it will need to review and ultimately staff in the new administration, which includes the country’s national security apparatus.

Biden also acknowledged earlier this week that he has not yet begun receiving the President’s Daily Brief — a classified document compiled each morning for the president and his senior advisers by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that outlines key national security threats and global hot spots.

Biden projected calm on Tuesday, telling reporters that receiving the PDB “would be useful, but is not necessary” since he is not currently in a position to make decisions for the country. But presidents-elect have traditionally been given access to the document to ensure they are up to date on the biggest threats facing the nation on Day One of their presidency, eliminating any gaps in institutional knowledge that might endanger national security.

The tradition has endured even through contested races: In 2000, outgoing President Bill Clinton decided to let then-Gov. George W. Bush read the PDB during the recount process (the GSA administrator at the time, David Barram, similarly refused to “ascertain” Bush as the winner until the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor).

Despite Clinton’s gesture, the 9/11 Commission found that the 36-day delay in the Clinton-Bush transition “cut in half the normal transition period” and led to a six-month delay in staffing the Bush administration’s national security teams. That, in turn, left the country more vulnerable to a foreign attack, the commission concluded.

“For that reason and against the backdrop of the contested election in 2000, the 9/11 Commission recommended that transitions should strive to ‘minimize as much as possible the disruption of national security policymaking,’” the former officials write. “That recommendation carries all the more force amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic.”

They continued: “In this moment of uncertainty, we must put politics aside. Further delaying the Biden team’s ability to access the President’s Daily Briefing and other national security information and resources compromises the continuity and readiness of our national leadership, with immense national security stakes hanging in the balance.”

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