From tearing up documents and hiding transcripts of calls with foreign leaders to using encrypted messaging apps and personal email accounts for government business, the Trump White House’s skirting of records preservation rules could limit the incoming Biden administration’s visibility into highly sensitive foreign policy and national security secrets.
The mysteries have swirled over the past four years: What was really said during Trump’s many phone calls and one-on-one meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin? What has Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kusher discussed with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman on WhatsApp, where messages can be automatically deleted? Did Trump’s aides memorialize any of the reported conversations he had with U.S. and foreign officials about boosting his business empire?
The Presidential Records Act, which requires a sitting president to preserve and ultimately make public all records relating to the performance of their official duties, was passed 42 years ago in response to President Richard Nixon’s attempts to hide the White House tapes that led to his downfall. The law makes presidential records available to the public via the Freedom of Information Act beginning five years after the end of an administration.
But it has no real enforcement mechanism and relies on the president’s good faith compliance, said Kel McClanahan, the executive director of the law firm National Security Counselors.
“Out of respect for the institution and the separation of powers, when Congress passed the PRA, they gave the White House the right to decide what constitutes a presidential record,” McClanahan said. “They never envisioned a president who would come in and just start shredding stuff.”
The White House budget office has instructed federal agencies to continue preparing the administration’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, according to multiple administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of private conversations.
The White House budget proposal is typically issued in February, which would be at least two weeks after Trump is scheduled to depart the White House. He lost the Nov. 3 election to Joe Biden and Biden is set to be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021, though Trump has refused to accept the results.
The decision to proceed with President Donald Trump’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year has rankled and surprised several career staffers given Biden’s victory in the presidential election, as well as the fact that the incoming Biden administration is expected to submit its budget plan to Congress early next year.
The insistence on budget planning, even though Trump won’t be in office to offer a budget in February, is part of a recent pattern of behavior from White House officials and senior political appointees that have shown a rejection of the election results.
On Monday, the Trump White House also instructed senior government officials to not cooperate with Biden’s transition team, igniting a potential legal battle.
Asked if the fiscal year 2022 budget process was proceeding as planned, a spokesperson for the White House budget office said: “Of course.”
Five days before the election, the WH sent a lawyer over to GSA. And....
Trump has also fired Bonnie Glick, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who last Friday became the first senior official to lose her job in the wake of election night.
Many of the personnel moves in recent months have been engineered by Johnny McEntee, a former football player at the University of Connecticut who served as Trump’s “body man” during the 2016 presidential campaign. He later followed the victorious real estate magnate to the White House, only to face an embarrassing dismissal in early 2018 for what were reported to be gambling-related problems.
McEntee returned to the White House in January, assuming control of the Presidential Personnel Office, despite having none of the managerial executive experience such an office would ordinarily demand. He has spent much of the year ferreting out suspected fifth columnists within the federal bureaucracy and installing Trump loyalists in their place. Those loyalists included college students with no experience in government.
Since the election, McEntee has also been looking to punish any administration officials who may be looking for employment beyond Jan. 20, when Biden will take the oath of office.
A White House communications official told Yahoo News that he could not comment on personnel matters.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said Wednesday that he will intervene if the Trump administration has not allowed President-elect Joe Biden access to presidential daily intelligence briefings by the end of the week, one of the first rights of a presidential candidate after winning the election.
"There is no loss from him getting the briefings and to be able to do that," Lankford told radio station KRMG, noting that he sits on the Senate Oversight Committee and that he's already started engaging on this issue.
The Oklahoma Republican said if no progress is made on the issue by Friday, he will step in and say, "This needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task."
Lankford's comment comes as Biden and his senior advisers are not yet receiving the President's Daily Brief, the highly classified intelligence briefings about pressing national security issues that their soon-to-be predecessor has been offered daily. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Monday that Biden's lack of access stems from the election being not yet ascertained by the General Services Administration -- a clear indication that the Biden transition team is not getting the same briefings that presidents-elect typically receive.
It remains unclear whether the race needs to be ascertained before the President-elect can legally receive the briefings. Biden has said that the daily briefings "would be useful, but it's not necessary." Lankford on Wednesday also referenced the abbreviated 2000 transition, which a bipartisan 9/11 report said contributed to a lack of security preparedness ahead of the 9/11 terror attacks. "There's nothing wrong with Vice President Biden getting the briefings to be able to prepare himself and so that he can be ready -- the President's already getting those," Lankford said, adding that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, also has the appropriate clearances to begin receiving briefings because she serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also called for Biden to receive the briefings.
"As has been done in every other transition, the President should order that Biden and his team receive the PDB, as has been done in the past, even during the contested election of 2000," Warner said Wednesday. "It's simply irresponsible to withhold this in these uncertain times."
Like most of his Republican colleagues, Lankford did not go so far as to acknowledge that Biden is the president-elect after every major news organization projected his victory on Saturday. Lankford defended the President's many legal disputes, saying the best thing right now is for Trump to be able to go through the legal process and "get real answers" before the Electoral College casts ballots in December.
There is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in this election.
In the meantime, Lankford said, "Joe Biden can continue to be able to function and say, 'I'm the president-elect,' and great if you want to say that, go do it, and to be able to do your preparation work. The President can say, 'Not so fast. I've got questions to answer.' Great, go ask them."
President-elect Joe Biden should start receiving intelligence briefings, and the delay in allowing the transition to officially get started is damaging U.S. national security, President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly told POLITICO in an exclusive interview.
“You lose a lot if the transition is delayed because the new people are not allowed to get their head in the game,” Kelly said Friday. “The president, with all due respect, does not have to concede. But it’s about the nation. It hurts our national security because the people who should be getting [up to speed], it’s not a process where you go from zero to 1,000 miles per hour.”
“Mr. Trump doesn’t have to concede if he doesn’t want to, I guess, until the full election process is complete. But there’s nothing wrong with starting the transition, starting to get people like the national security people, obviously the president and the vice president-elect, if they are in fact elected, to start getting them [up to speed] on the intelligence,” he said.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, served as Trump’s chief of staff from July 2017 to early Jan. 2019. Trump lost patience with his strict management style and Kelly grew exasperated trying to put guardrails around the president.
Kelly said that starting transition intelligence briefings early is key because it’s a gradual process.
“The transition, in the national security realm in particular and the homeland security realm, is just so important that every day that the transition is delayed really kind of handicaps” the new team, he said.
“I think it’s crazy not to” start the transition, Kelly said. “I know Mr. Trump better than most people do. I know that he’ll never accept defeat and, in fact, he doesn’t have to accept defeat here. He just has to do what’s best for the country and in the country’s interest.”
Former White House chief of staff John Kelly issued an on-the-record statement Friday night lambasting President Donald Trump for not helping with the transition to a Biden administration.
Read the full statement:
The delay in transitioning is an increasing national security and health crisis. It costs the current administration nothing to start to brief Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris, the new chief-of-staff, and ALL identified cabinet members and senior staff as they are identified over the days and weeks ahead. That said, the downside to not doing so could be catastrophic to our people regardless of who they voted for.
Just as important are getting the landing or beachhead teams into the various departments and agencies that protect Americans, our health, and our way of life. In particular are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Intel Community (IC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) so they can begin to build the absolutely critical situational awareness essential for a smooth transition of presidents if required.
Also, time is of the essence to commence the SF-86 process that will lead to required high-level security clearances. Hopefully, the incoming administration, be it Biden or Trump, will take security clearances—and who gets them and why—seriously
All this will allow a Biden Administration, if declared the winner via our Constitutional and rule of law process, to be well on its way to taking the reins to lead and protect the country and our people. It will allow the incoming professionals, if Mr. Biden does indeed win the election, to understand where the current administration is leaving them on incredibly important issues like terrorism, Syria, Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia, and what our current relationship is with our vital allies and partners particularly in NATO, Japan, South Korea, India, the five eyes, etc.. Just as importantly they will be in a position to develop an effective national strategy to protect all of us against the increasing ravages of the corona virus.
Beginning the transition, even as some claim that a clear winner in the election has not yet been identified, is critically important. The current administration does not have to concede, but it should do the right thing just in case the Constitutional system declares they lost. It is not about the GOP or the Democrat Party. It is not about the president or about Mr. Biden. It is about America and what is best for our people. Mr. Trump should order the transition process begin immediately. It is the right and moral thing to do.