The Pentagon has abruptly ended its cooperation with the transition team of President-elect Joe Biden, throwing the already-complicated process into further question.
The move by Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to impose what he called “a holiday pause” in briefings drew sharp criticism from Biden’s transition team and has shocked Defense Department officials, despite claims by the Trump administration that the sudden change was part of some “mutually agreed” pause.
“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,” Axios reported.
President Donald Trump appointed Miller and a number of loyalists to key top positions in the Pentagon after firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper last month in moves that have been likened to a “purge” of the Defense Department.
Officials in both the administration and the president-elect’s transition team are unsure of what prompted the move by Miller to halt briefing.
However, the Washington Post reports that senior officials at the Pentagon were infuriated by a story published Wednesday revealing that $2.6 billion would be saved if Biden halted the construction of Trump’s border wall. The Trump administration has blamed the Biden transition team for leaking that information, despite the fact that the reporters who covered the story have received numerous White House leaks in the past.
Members of Biden’s transition team received news of the canceled briefings on Thursday before they “immediately and appropriately escalated” the issue, said Biden spokesman Yohannes Abraham.
“Our agency review teams continue making progress on a shortened timeline, and we’ve benefited from constructive cooperation within many departments and agencies, but we have met isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense,” Abraham said in a Friday briefing, according to Bloomberg.
“We were concerned to learn this week about an abrupt halt in the already limited cooperation there, and as indicated by DOD earlier today, we expect that decision will be reversed,” Abraham continued.
“Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break,” he continued. “In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period, as there’s no time to spare.”
Miller, for his part, continued to maintain that the “holiday pause” was consented to by both sides, and that the transition would continue come January, adding: “I remain committed to a full and transparent transition — this is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS.”
Miller also said that the administration would be mainly focused on Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to combat the surging pandemic.
Transition spokeswoman Jen Psaki dismissed Miller’s claims about a mutual agreement, responding to a question about whether the acting secretary was being truthful with the curt response: “I don’t think we need to communicate that. I think you can make your own judgments.”
This isn’t the first time that the Pentagon has sought to defend itself from claims that it was intentionally throwing a monkey wrench into the transition process, which formally began almost three weeks after Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
The Trump administration also reportedly blocked meetings between transition officials and intelligence agencies that fall under the authority of the defense secretary, such as the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, reported The Hill.
“No department is more pivotal to our national security than the Department of Defense, and a failure to work together could have consequences well beyond January,” Abrahams said, adding that it was important for there to be “constructive cooperation within many departments and agencies.”
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