President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on Wednesday disputed suggestions from Pentagon officials who questioned the accuracy of Biden’s assertion a day earlier that the Department of Defense has refused to brief his team on the massive cyberattack on government agencies and major American technology and accounting companies.
“As the President-elect noted yesterday, the Department of Defense has continued to refuse to meet with our Agency Review Team members,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the Biden transition, said in a statement to CNN.
“There has been no substantial progress since transition officials spoke to the intransigence of the Department’s political leadership late last week,” Price said. “As we said then, no Department is more pivotal to our national security than the Department of Defense, and an unwillingness to work together could have consequences well beyond January 20.”
An unnamed Pentagon official denied the allegations in a statement, saying Biden’s claim the Defense Department wouldn’t brief his team was “patently false.”
Tensions between the Biden transition and President Donald Trump’s political appointees at the Pentagon have been simmering for weeks, but this latest exchange marked a significant escalation as unnamed Pentagon officials essentially accused Biden of lying when he was discussing the cyberbreach with reporters on Tuesday and said that the Defense Department “won’t even brief us, on many things.”
The alleged stonewalling from the Pentagon covers a wide area of defense subject matters, people familiar with the matter say, including the entire SolarWinds hacking probe.
The Pentagon has directed Biden’s transition team to receive briefings on the cyberattack from an inter-agency group, known as the Cyber Unified Coordination Group (UCG). That group, however, is not a Department of Defense entity. The information Biden’s team is seeking – unsuccessfully so, with 28 days before taking office – is a deeper understanding of the Defense Department’s view of the cyberattack.
A Pentagon spokesman released a statement from an unnamed senior defense official who said Biden’s remark about the Defense Department not offering briefings is “patently false.” The official did not directly address or contradict the President-elect’s comment that his team is not getting briefed on the hack, which Russia is suspected of conducting.
“The DOD has conducted 163 interviews and 181 requests for information, which greatly exceed what the Biden-Harris team originally requested,” the official said in the statement to reporters.
The senior defense official acknowledged in the statement that briefings have stopped for two weeks – another point of contention between the Pentagon and the Biden team, which said it had not agreed to a break of that length with so few days remaining before the President-elect’s inauguration.
“The Department will continue to provide the information and meetings necessary to ensure the continuity of government,” the senior defense official said in the statement. “As we’ve said, meetings will begin again in early January, and in fact we’ve begun scheduling them.”
Last week CNN reported that acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said the incoming Biden team had agreed to a two-week holiday break in previously scheduled transition talks at the Pentagon.
The Biden transition team said Friday that they did not agree to a two-week break in critical transfer-of-power discussions with Pentagon officials, despite Miller’s assertion that both sides had agreed to take such a “holiday pause.”
“There was no mutually agreed upon holiday break,” Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, told reporters Friday. “In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period, as there’s no time to spare.”