The Trump administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge that former Vice President Joe Biden won the election has led to an unusual restriction on the flow of national security information to the president-elect.
In a statement to NBC News, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it will not interface with the Biden transition until the General Services Administration decides it’s clear who won, a process known as “ascertainment.”
“ODNI follows the statutory direction provided in the Presidential Transition Act, which requires ascertainment of the candidate by the administrator of GSA prior to supporting a potential presidential transition,” the statement said. “ODNI would not have contact with any transition team until notified by the GSA administrator.”
More than three days after media outlets projected that Biden had defeated Trump to win the White House, GSA chief Emily Murphy had yet to sign the letter of “ascertainment” — a previously mostly noncontroversial process since the passage of the transition act nearly 60 years ago.
Separately, the president-elect is not receiving the President’s Daily Brief, the compendium of high-level intelligence reporting that goes to the most senior officials in the government. President Donald Trump could authorize that with a word, but he has not done so.
On Tuesday, Biden confirmed to reporters that he was not receiving the daily brief. “Obviously the PDB would be useful but it’s not necessary,” he said. “I’m not the sitting president now.”
“Access to classified information is useful but I’m not in a position to make any decisions on these issues anyway. It would be nice to have it but it’s not critical.”
“Shame on DNI Ratcliffe for hiding behind the Presidential Transition Act,” Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior CIA official, said. “All it would take is a presidential head-nod to make it happen. It’s in the interest of national security for Biden to receive the full PDB — this was done in 2000 for George Bush even as election challenges continued. There would be little risk in extending this courtesy to a former vice president who received the PDB for eight years.”
Biden received intelligence briefings as a presidential candidate, but they were not at the level of the PDB. And it’s not clear that they are continuing now that the election is over.
Candidate briefings are an “analytic briefing, so there’s no … operations discussed, no covert actions discussed, no sources and methods discussed,” former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell has written. “It’s simply what do we see as the threats … why do we see it that way … how those threats evolved and where might they be headed?”
David Priess, a former CIA officer who is an expert in presidential intelligence briefings, said that normally, the winning candidate would get a high level briefing immediately after the election.
The only time that didn’t happen was the 2000 Gore-Bush contest, when recounts in Florida meant the winner wasn’t decided until Dec. 13, said Priess, author of the 2016 book “The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama.”
Vice President Al Gore was already getting the briefings, but the Clinton administration decided to give them to George W. Bush in early December, even before the election was decided, Priess said.
With Biden not getting intelligence briefings, it’s not clear whether any of his top advisers are getting access to any classified material at all, Biden transition officials say. There also may be delays in background investigations that relate to security clearances, which could impact the Senate confirmation process, they said.
The Department of State is not facilitating calls between Biden and foreign leaders.
Also on hold is “access to the federal agencies, the employees of the federal agencies and their expertise, and the nonpublic information of the executive branch that will help read the incoming administration into all the important work that is ongoing,” a Biden official said. “To be able to help make informed policy decisions. And deliver on what the American people have voted for.”