Key Agency Chief Allows Biden Transition to Formally Begin

Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, speaks during a Department of Homeland Security ribbon-cutting ceremony last year. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The peaceful transfer of power from outgoing President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden will formally begin after the head of the General Services Administration signed off on the transition process Monday.

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy sent a letter to Biden late Monday saying the Trump administration is ready to begin the presidential transition. She officially triggered the process more than two weeks after the race was called for the former vice president.

In the letter first obtained by CNN, Murphy defended the delay, saying that she arrived at her decision to trigger transfer proceedings independently and “based on the law and available facts.”

“I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any executive branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” Murphy said. “To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination. I did, however, receive threats online, by phone and by mail directly at my safety, my family, my staff and even my pets in an effort to coerce me into making this determination prematurely. Even in the face of thousands of threats, I always remained committed to upholding the law.”

Under law, the administrator of the GSA has the sole authority to release millions in funds for presidential transition operations. Without her stamp of approval, an incoming administration is left hamstrung.

In 2016 when then-candidate Donald Trump secured his victory in the presidential election, opponent Hillary Clinton called him to concede the same day. Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter gave the go-ahead formally, issuing am order for a peaceful transition of power.

Within two days, President Barack Obama met with President-elect Trump, and Biden, then vice president, met with Vice President-elect Pence at the White House, where Obama welcomed Trump to the Oval.

The Obama White House handed off power in a rapid clip — even giving the Trump White House a playbook on how to handle major problems like a pandemic. That playbook went totally ignored, according to Ronald Klain, who was Obama’s Ebola czar at the time. Klain is now President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

Murphy on Monday chalked up her to delay to a lack of a statutes providing “procedures or standards” for how an administrator ascertains the vote when legal challenges and “incomplete counts” abound.

Biden won the popular vote with 79,890,356 cast in his favor and secured 306 electoral college votes. Trump’s popular vote totals lagged behind at 73,821,061 and he secured only 232 electoral college votes. This meant the incumbent failed to meet the minimum number of electoral votes required to win. Notably, in 2016, when Trump beat Clinton, the electoral college margin was the exact same — Trump with 306 to Clinton’s 232.

Yohannes Abraham, the director of the transition team for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, appeared relieved on Monday, saying Murphy’s action was a “definitive” step.

“In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies,” Abraham said in a statement.

While Murphy hedged on the transition process, pressure steadily mounted.

Last Friday, members of the House Oversight Committee issued a letter to Murphy requesting she attend a briefing with lawmakers and committee heads to unpack what was going on behind the scenes at the GSA.

By Monday morning however, Democratic committee chairs from House Oversight, the House Committee on Appropriations and two subcommittees — one for government operations and another for financial services and general government — upped the stakes.

Revealing that Murphy offered to send her deputy to meet with lawmakers instead of appearing herself and further revealing that she had raised logistical concerns around holding a virtual briefing, the lawmakers’ patience wore thin. They gave Murphy until 5 p.m. Monday to pick a time to debrief, be it by phone or through other means.

In the hours that followed, one committee head after another put Murphy on notice. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, wrote the administrator on Monday, noting her delay was a potential national security threat and cut Biden off from receiving information that only he and a “handful” of other top national security officers are privy to.

“A crucial element of the transition process is to ensure that this intelligence, often obtained at great cost and risk to American personnel, is shared with the incoming President to ensure that there is no security ‘gap’ as a result of the change in administration,” Schiff wrote before citing findings of the 9/11 Commission.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001, the commission found that President George W. Bush’s “truncated transition” period actively hampered the administration’s ability to flesh out key security posts and hold briefings.

National security threats abroad, including those from China and Russia, combined with the continuing pandemic are powerful twin forces, Schiff explained.

“The risks of an abbreviated transition period with insufficient opportunity for the incoming administration to fully prepare manifest and potentially deadly,” he said.

Similar sentiments were sent Monday to Murphy from Virginia Representative Don Beyer, the Democratic vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, which is comprised of members of both the House and Senate.

Biden’s margin is soaring at 6 million more votes than Trump and counting, Beyer pointed out, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and even a smattering of prominent GOP lawmakers have been calling for a peaceful transition.

With unemployment gripping millions of Americans, including 12 million whose pandemic-related benefits are set to expire in just one week, and housing and food insecurity trending upward thanks to pressures from the pandemic, Murphy’s delay caused “grievous harm to our nation,” Beyer said.

President Trump had a much different take.

Currently 1 for 35 in court after launching a series of ill-fated lawsuits contesting, without evidence, the veracity of the 2020 election results in numerous states, Trump took to Twitter moments after Murphy’s letter went public.

Thanking Murphy for what he described as her “steadfast dedication and loyalty to Our Country,” the outgoing president appeared eager to hold on.

“Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail!” Trump wrote on Twitter “Nevertheless in the best interest of our country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

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