Updated Dec 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Pentagon halts Biden transition briefings

Christopher Miller
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered a Pentagon-wide halt to cooperation with the transition of President-elect Biden, shocking officials across the Defense Department, senior administration officials tell Axios.

The latest: Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham contradicted the Pentagon's official response to this story on Friday afternoon, telling reporters, "Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break."

  • "In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay," Abraham continued, referring to the Trump administration's delay in recognizing Biden as president-elect.
  • Miller had said in a statement following the publication of this story: "At no time has the Department cancelled or declined any interview. ... After the mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today."

Behind the scenes: Trump administration officials left open the possibility cooperation would resume after a holiday pause. The officials were unsure what prompted Miller's action, or whether President Trump approved.

Why it matters: Miller's move, which stunned officials throughout the Pentagon, was the biggest eruption yet of animus and mistrust toward the Biden team from the top level of the Trump administration.

  • Fury at the Biden team among senior Pentagon officials escalated after the Washington Post published a story on Wednesday night revealing how much money would be saved if Biden halted construction of Trump's border wall.
  • Trump officials blame the leak on the Biden transition team (Though, it should be noted, they have no evidence of this, and both reporters on the byline cover the Trump administration and have historically been prolific beneficiaries of leaks.)

What happened: Meetings between President Trump's team and the Biden team are going on throughout the government, after a delayed start as the administration dragged its feet on officially recognizing Biden as president-elect.

  • Then on Thursday night, Miller — who was appointed Nov. 9, when Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper right after the election — ordered officials throughout the building to cancel scheduled transition meetings.

A senior Defense Department official sought to downplay the move, calling it "a simple delay of the last few scheduled meetings until after the new year."

  • "We had fewer than two dozen remaining meetings on the schedule today and next week," the official said, adding that "the DoD staff working the meetings were overwhelmed by the number of meetings."
  • "These same senior leaders needed to do their day jobs and were being consumed by transition activities. ... With the holidays we are taking a knee for two weeks. We are still committed to a productive transition."

This story has been updated with responses from Miller, the Biden transition and new details about frustrations at the Biden team over a Washington Post story.

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