Tension rises between Pentagon and Biden transition team over meetings

Defense officials said the cancellation of transition team meetings was due in part to prioritizing work related to planning for the possibility of a government shutdown.

Posted: Dec 18, 2020 2:28 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President-elect Joe Biden's transition team said Friday that they did not agree to a two-week break in critical transfer-of-power discussions with Pentagon officials, despite an assertion from the acting Defense Secretary that both sides had agreed to take such a "holiday pause."

"There was no mutually agreed-upon holiday break," Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, told reporters Friday. "In fact, we think it's important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period, as there's no time to spare."

Tensions between the Pentagon and the Biden transition spilled into public view once again on Friday after the acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, said the incoming Biden team had agreed to a two-week holiday break in previously scheduled transition talks at the Pentagon.

Miller's announcement also acknowledged that the Pentagon had postponed a series of meetings with the Biden transition team that had been scheduled for Friday, saying that those meetings would be rescheduled after the supposed holiday break.

A Department of Defense spokesperson said that the Pentagon was "working to reschedule approximately 20 interviews with 40 officials until after January 1."

A US defense official said that there were fewer planned meetings over the next two weeks, saying that there had only been six briefings scheduled for next week.

The Biden team learned of the delay on Thursday, Abraham said in a briefing call with reporters, where he urged Pentagon officials to resume the meetings and information-sharing critical to national security and continuity of government.

"In terms of when meetings will resume, meetings and requests for information, which are substantively interchangeable, it's our hope and expectation that that will happen immediately," Abraham said.

Defense officials told CNN that the Pentagon is trying to reschedule the meetings after "an agreed-upon two-week break between the two transition teams," but officials on the Biden transition team said they had believed the Pentagon briefings would resume soon, after being stopped without much explanation at some point Thursday.

In a statement Friday, Miller denied a report that the Pentagon was canceling or declining meetings with Biden's transition team.

Earlier this month, defense officials disputed reports, including from CNN, that the department was placing unnecessary hurdles on coordinating meetings between the President-elect's team and the Defense Department, blaming the Biden transition team for not adhering to the agreed-upon process for scheduling meetings.

Miller said in his statement that, "after the mutually-agreed-upon holiday pause, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today."

Officials with the Biden transition team said they had believed the meetings would resume sometime soon after Thursday's cessation and were unaware Friday morning that the day's meetings had been canceled.

Defense officials said the cancellation, first reported by Axios, was due in part to prioritizing work related to planning for the possibility of a government shutdown at midnight. One of the officials said that the Pentagon's response to the coronavirus pandemic and the recent cyber attacks on the US government also prompted the postponement.

The officials said meetings should resume, but that might not happen until after the holidays.

In his statement, Miller said that he remains committed to a "full and transparent transition."

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