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Pentagon abruptly halts Biden transition meetings

A view of the Pentagon. (AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
December 18, 2020

On Friday, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller announced a two-week pause in transition meetings with Joe Biden’s administration transition team, with some Friday meetings already being rescheduled.

In a statement to American Military News, Miller described the move as a “mutually-agreed upon” pause. His statement came just hours after Axios reported the pause caught at least one top Biden official unaware.

“The Department of Defense will continue to provide all required support to the Agency Review Team (ART) to keep our nation and her citizens safe,” Miller said. “As of today, we have supported 139 interview sessions [with] more than 200 DoD personnel, 161 requests for information, and disclosed thousands of pages of non-public and classified documents, exceeding prior transitions. At no time has the Department canceled or declined any interview.”

Miller said the two-week pause will is to allow requests for information “on OWS and COVID-19 information to guarantee a flawless transition.”

“After the mutually-agreed upon holiday pause, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today,” Miller said. “Again, I remain committed to a full and transparent transition – this is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS.”

Axios reported the pause was announced on throughout the Pentagon on Thursday night and that a top Biden official was unaware of the directive.

The pause on the transition comes as the Pentagon has already faced an accusation of slow-walking transition meetings with the Biden team. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported Pentagon officials were refusing to let the Biden team meet with various military intelligence offices. The Pentagon issued a public statement denying the reporting, while one current defense official told the Washington Post that issues with the transition are actually attributable to Biden’s transition team, which he said tried to directly contact agencies to arrange their visits, rather than submit meeting requests through the Pentagon.

Today, Axios reported a Pentagon official also downplayed the latest report of a delay in the transition efforts, calling it “a simple delay of the last few scheduled meetings until after the new year.”

The official told Axios that Miller’s order delayed fewer than two-dozen meetings, but that the DoD staff needed for the meetings were being overwhelmed by the number of meetings they had already participated in.

“These same senior leaders needed to do their day jobs and were being consumed by transition activities,” the official told Axios. “With the holidays we are taking a knee for two weeks. We are still committed to a productive transition.”

The Pentagon has seen a number of changes in the days since the 2020 election. The day after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and appointed Miller to serve in the acting role, three top Pentagon officials resigned. As the acting defense secretary, Miller has also implemented some structural changes within the Pentagon, including an order for civilian Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officials to report directly to him.

Miller has also supported Trump in his efforts to draw down troops deployed abroad. In his first letter to the department as the acting defense secretary, Miller said it is “time to come home” from what he described as “perpetual war.” Just days later, Miller announced the withdrawal of about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan and 500 from Iraq, to be completed by January 15.