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Biden decries ‘obstruction’ in national security transition

Emma Kinery and Gregory Korte

President-elect Joe Biden accused loyalists to President Donald Trump at national security agencies of throwing up roadblocks to a smooth presidential transition and warned that adversaries could take advantage of the situation without better cooperation from the outgoing government.

“We need to make sure nothing is lost in the hand-off between administrations,” he said after a meeting with his national security advisers as well as the teams responsible for the transition at related agencies. “Right now we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas. It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility.”

Biden singled out political appointees at the Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget for “obstruction,” and called on them to bring him up to speed on force posture and budgeting “in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit.”

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller has denied interfering with the transition and said the interruption was the result of a mutually agreed-upon “holiday pause.” Biden’s transition director said there was no such agreement and that the Trump administration abruptly broke off briefings with the incoming team.

It wasn’t the first time Biden has expressed displeasure of the pace of the transition. But with 23 days before his inauguration, his protests Monday displayed a mounting frustration with the outgoing Trump administration.

Biden said much work needs to be done to re-invest in diplomacy after four years of the Trump administration withdrawing from international organizations and agreements. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. Biden wants the U.S. to return to all three.

“Right now we have an enormous vacuum,” he said. “We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of the world that has begun to find ways to work around us, or work without us.”

The new administration will also inherit the response to what is believed to be a Russian-backed hack of federal government computer systems this month.

Biden said he’s still learning about the extent of that hack, but said it called for bipartisan cooperation to bolster cyber defenses. “This attack represents a grave risk to our national security, and we need to close the gap between where our capabilities are now and where they need to be,” he said.

After a delay of several weeks after the election, Biden has been receiving the presidential daily briefing the same top-secret intelligence report given to Trump several times a week since Nov. 30.