Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered a Pentagon-wide halt to cooperation with the transition of President-elect Biden, shocking officials across the Defense Department, senior administration officials tell Axios.
Behind the scenes: A top Biden official was unaware of the directive. Administration officials left open the possibility cooperation would resume after a holiday pause. The officials were unsure what prompted Miller’s action, or whether President Trump approved.
Why it matters: Miller’s move, which stunned officials throughout the Pentagon, was the biggest eruption yet of animus and mistrust toward the Biden team from the top level of the Trump administration.
- Fury at the Biden team among senior Pentagon officials escalated after the Washington Post published a story on Wednesday night revealing how much money would be saved if Biden halted construction of Trump’s border wall.
- Trump officials blame the leak on the Biden transition team (Though, it should be noted, they have no evidence of this, and both reporters on the byline cover the Trump administration and have historically been prolific beneficiaries of leaks.)
What happened: Meetings between President Trump’s team and the Biden team are going on throughout the government, after a delayed start as the administration dragged its feet on officially recognizing Biden as president-elect.
- Then on Thursday night, Miller — who was appointed Nov. 9, when Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper right after the election — ordered officials throughout the building to cancel scheduled transition meetings.
Pentagon official response: A senior Defense Department official sought to downplay the move, calling it “a simple delay of the last few scheduled meetings until after the new year.”
- “We had fewer than two dozen remaining meetings on the schedule today and next week,” the official said, adding that “the DoD staff working the meetings were overwhelmed by the number of meetings.”
- “These same senior leaders needed to do their day jobs and were being consumed by transition activities. … With the holidays we are taking a knee for two weeks. We are still committed to a productive transition.”
In a statement released after the publication of this story, Miller said: “At no time has the Department cancelled or declined any interview. … After the mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today.”