Pentagon Charles Dharapak/AP
The Department of Defense set up roadblocks for the incoming Biden administration during the transition process, Politico reported, citing multiple defense and transition officials.
Meetings were canceled, delayed, or tightly controlled in ways that made it difficult for Biden’s team to get information on critical national security issues, including vaccine distribution, transition officials said.
The Pentagon has pushed back on claims that it did not fulfill its transition obligations properly.
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The Pentagon transition was uglier than previously known, Politico reported Wednesday, revealing that the political appointees at the Department of Defense muzzled generals and kept critical information from the incoming administration’s transition team.
Meetings on issues ranging from military operations in conflict zones to vaccines were canceled, delayed, or controlled in ways that made it difficult for the Biden transition team to get the information they needed, Politico reported, citing a number of Pentagon and transition officials. After his election loss, President Donald Trump fired his defense secretary and installed loyalists in top posts, an unprecedented move in an administration’s final weeks.
Led by these newly installed officials, the Pentagon reportedly limited transition team visibility on activities in parts of the Middle East and Africa, special operations missions, and Operation Warp Speed, among other areas. Officials said that obstruction to the provision of vaccine information could hinder distribution operations, and at a time the virus is raging across America.
Requests for information were returned “sanitized” and scrubbed of a lot of key information, and meetings were reportedly closely monitored to prevent the disclosure of certain pieces of information by “minders” from the general counsel’s office.
A transition official told Politico that they bumped into a “very high-ranking” military official after a meeting that was not particularly helpful. “We were alone, and he told me ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to tell you more, but I was given very strict instructions,” the transition official recalled.
Officials said that White House appointees in the Pentagon were the main problems leading to obstruction during the transition, a process intended to ensure that the incoming administration can hit the ground running on day one on national security and defense issues.
“It’s just completely irresponsible and indefensible,” another transition official told Politico. “To play politics with the country’s national security is just really unacceptable.”
Days after losing the presidential election in mid-November, the White House purged the Pentagon’s civilian leadership, to include the secretary of defense and the top policy and intelligence posts, and filled vacancies with individuals loyal to Trump.
There were expectations then that the upset in the Pentagon might affect the transition, which got off to a late start as Trump contested the election results.
By mid-December, the Biden transition team publicly expressed concern over their access and briefings. Yohannes Abraham, a Biden transition spokesperson, said at that time that the team had encountered “resistance” from political appointees in the Pentagon.
Days later, then-President-elect Joe Biden complained that “the Department of Defense won’t even brief us on many things.”
“Right now we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” he said in follow-on remarks in late December. “It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility.”
The Department of Defense insisted that it did its job with regard to the transition.
As of last Thursday, the Biden transition team had received 277 responses to requests for information, and as of Friday, the team had met with over 400 political appointees and more than 180 career officials in the Pentagon, Politico reported.
Some defense officials said that Biden transition team complaints were “overblown” and that they “saw no effort to conceal anything.”
A Pentagon spokesperson told Politico that transition team “personnel are not government employees and thus limited to some extent on what they can receive,” explaining that being a part of such a team “is not a license to access confidential, privileged or classified government information.”
When the Biden transition team first raised its concerns in December, then-Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said he was committed to fulfilling departmental transition obligations. “This is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS,” he wrote in a statement.
Miller’s last day at the Pentagon was Wednesday, and per Politico, the Biden administration denied him office space and resources to transition out of his role at the last minute.
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