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Little-Known Trump-Appointee’s Refusal to Recognize Biden’s Victory Halts Transition Process


GSA Administrator Emily Murphy

The Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is refusing to sign a letter recognizing Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, preventing the president-elect and his team from accessing millions of dollars in funding and government access meant to allow for a seamless transition of power, the Washington Post reported Sunday evening.

According to the report, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a 2017 Donald Trump appointee, is “keeping with the president’s failure to concede the election” and has “no immediate plans” to sign such a letter. Despite the generally futile ongoing efforts by Trump’s campaign to challenge the election results, Murphy has refused to a acknowledge the president’s loss, telling Reuters through a spokesperson that she has not determined that “a winner is clear.”

While the U.S. president is officially elected by the Electoral College on Dec. 14 and confirmed by Congress on Jan. 6, the GSA letter is understood as the federal government’s first recognition of an election winner and start of the official transition process. Delivery of the letter has only been delayed once, when the U.S. Supreme Court was needed to weigh in on the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck explained that “under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, a candidate becomes ‘President-Elect’ (for purposes of the transition rules) when the GSA Administrator ascertains that it’s ‘apparent’ that they’ve won an electoral college majority.”

A senior administration official told the Post that “no agency head is going to get out in front of the president on transition issues right now” and predicted that top officials at all government agencies would be directed not to speak with anyone on Biden’s transition team.

Many online focused their attention on the timing of GSA getting a new general counsel in Trent Benishek. That was on Oct. 29.

Murphy said in a statement that she was “thrilled” to have Benishek aboard.

“I am thrilled Trent has joined GSA as our general counsel, as his experience and leadership bring great value to our agency,” Murphy said. “Trent’s legal expertise will further GSA’s role as a leader in procurement, real estate, and technology services for the entire federal government.”

Murphy’s decision will withhold approximately $9.9 million to help the incoming administration set up its new government, and bar the Biden team from getting government email addresses, using government workspaces, and processing background information.

Nicole Hemmer, an historian and associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History project at Columbia University, said that under current circumstances, Murphy’s conduct is significant and could potentially jeopardize U.S. national security.

“Refusal to authorize the transition isn’t just symbolic: it prevents the Biden-Harris transition from getting the funds and access they need to begin setting up a government — an especially urgent activity in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis,” she tweeted Sunday.

A Biden transition spokesman released a statement Sunday expressing similar concerns.

“Now that the election has been independently called for Joe Biden, we look forward to the GSA Administrator quickly ascertaining Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the President-elect and Vice President-elect,” the statement said. “America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.”

Murphy has previously been criticized for having a “remarkable lack of curiosity” regarding foreign governments’ spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Conservative attorney and National Review contributor Ed Whelan on Monday urged the GSA to change course and recognize Biden’s victory.

“In absence of any plausible basis to believe that lawsuits might alter election result, GSA Administrator should recognize Biden as ‘apparently successful’ and provide funding for transition. (Doing so wouldn’t prevent lawsuits from proceeding.),” he wrote.

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.