President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden has already affected Biden’s transition, particularly on national security issues.
Biden has yet to receive a presidential daily briefing, and it was unclear whether his team would have access to classified information, the most important pipeline for them to learn about the threats facing the United States.
Like previous presidents-elect, Biden is receiving Secret Service protection, and a no-fly zone has been established over his home in Delaware. But if Trump’s administration continues its refusal to recognise Biden as the winner, it could complicate his security until his inauguration.
Here are some of the issues at play:
Presidential Daily Briefings
Trump can prevent Biden and his aides from receiving the presidential daily briefing, the compendium of the government’s latest secrets and best intelligence insights, for the entire transition. No law states that Biden must receive it, although under previous administrations dating to at least 1968, presidents have authorized their elected successors to be given the briefing after clinching victory.
Previous presidents considered it good governance, said David Priess, a former CIA officer and the author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about the daily brief.
“As with so many norms and traditions, it is hard to say it will happen with this president,” Priess said.
Trump’s indifference to norms is a central theme of his presidency, making him unlikely to begin following them now that he has lost the election.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on why Trump had not authorised Biden to receive the briefing. A Biden campaign spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment on whether the president-elect should already be receiving the briefing.
In the aftermath of the contested 2000 election, while votes in Florida were being recounted, President Bill Clinton authorised George W Bush to receive the President’s Daily Brief. As vice president, Al Gore already had access to the intelligence.
Along with the presidential daily briefing, transition team officials need to have access to classified information at intelligence agencies, like the CIA, to make staffing decisions and begin planning for the administration.
On this front, Trump can make it much more difficult for the Biden team to gain access to those materials. Under law, the Trump administration must formally recognise Biden as the president-elect to share classified information with his team. That decision is typically made by the head of the General Services Administration, a little-known government agency that oversees the transition. The head of that agency, Emily W Murphy, is a Trump political appointee who so far has declined to designate Biden as the president-elect. As long as the GSA refuses to recognise Biden, the team cannot legally view the materials.
Former vice presidents like Biden do not receive full-time Secret Service protection, but Biden has had a protection detail since earlier this year. The Secret Service also extended the no-fly zone over Biden’s home to cover an entertainment complex in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, where he addressed the nation on Saturday night.
But if the Trump administration — through the GSA — continues not to recognise Biden as the president-elect, it is likely to stymie the typical transition that occurs between Biden’s temporary security detail and the one specifically devised to protect presidents, known as the Presidential Protection Division.
Under previous administrations, the Secret Service has had the two teams begin working together during the transition with the incoming president’s detail becoming increasingly made up of Presidential Protection Division agents and officers as Inauguration Day approached. Such a handoff requires significant resources and changes in personnel work hours, and former agency officials say the Secret Service is highly unlikely to begin that transition unless the GSA has authorised it.