Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 10:00 p.m. ET, November 12, 2020
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8:52 a.m. ET, November 12, 2020

This GOP senator says he will step in if Biden doesn't have access to intelligence briefings by Friday

From CNN's Alison Main and Caroline Kelly

Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., during a Senate hearing on September 24, 2020. 
Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., during a Senate hearing on September 24, 2020.  Tom Williams/Pool/Getty Images

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said he will intervene if the Trump administration has not allowed President-elect Joe Biden access to presidential daily intelligence briefings by the end of the week – one of the first rights of a presidential candidate after winning the election.

"There is no loss from him getting the briefings and to be able to do that," Lankford told radio station KRMG on Wednesday, noting that he sits on the Senate Oversight Committee and that he's already started engaging on this issue.

The Oklahoma Republican said if no progress is made on the issue by Friday, he will step in and say, "This needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task."

Lankford's comment comes as Biden and his senior advisers are not yet receiving the President's Daily Brief, the highly classified intelligence briefings about pressing national security issues that their soon-to-be predecessor has been offered daily.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Monday that Biden's lack of access stems from the election not yet being ascertained by the General Services Administration – a clear indication that the Biden transition team is not getting the same briefings that presidents-elect typically receive.

It remains unclear whether the race needs to be ascertained before the President-elect can legally receive the briefings. Biden has said that the daily briefings "would be useful, but it's not necessary."

Lankford on Wednesday also referenced the abbreviated 2000 transition, which a bipartisan 9/11 report said contributed to a lack of security preparedness ahead of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also called for Biden to receive the briefings.

Read more here.

8:34 a.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Biden named this longtime aide as his White House chief of staff. Here's a look back at his career.

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica

Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, testifies before the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee hearing on "Community Perspectives on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2020.
Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, testifies before the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee hearing on "Community Perspectives on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Ron Klain to be his incoming chief of staff, the Biden transition office said in a news release Wednesday, elevating his longtime aide to one of the most powerful positions in the White House.

Klain is one of Biden's most trusted campaign advisers and was long seen as the most likely pick for the top job. He previously served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration and Biden during his tenure as President Barack Obama's vice president.

"Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014," Biden said in a statement. "His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again."

Klain praised Biden in his own statement Wednesday, calling his new role "the honor of a lifetime."

Here are some key things to know about Biden's incoming chief of staff:

  • Klain brings unique expertise to this moment defined by the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The Democratic operative was appointed by then-President Obama to lead the response to the Ebola crisis in 2014. Klain's experience leading the Obama administration's response to that public health threat is seen as an asset. During the campaign Klain was one of the public faces of the Biden team's response to the pandemic.
  • Klain graduated from Harvard Law School in 1987 and was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. He would later serve as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White. Klain was appointed by then Sen. Biden, to serve as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1989 to 1992, a tenure that included the contentious hearings around the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
  • Klain has become the go-to operative for debate preparation for Democratic candidates dating as far back as Bill Clinton. His work with Clinton led him to hold a number of different roles in the Clinton administration, including chief of staff to Gore.
  • Klain also worked for Gore's failed presidential bid, including his recount effort in Florida, in which he served as general counsel. He also worked as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, focused primarily on preparing her for debates.
  • After years as a partner at a Washington law firm and as general counsel of a venture capital firm, Klain was tapped by Biden in 2008 to be his chief of staff.

Read more here.

1:47 p.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Why Trump is filing so many flimsy lawsuits in battleground states

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Kara Scannell

US President Donald Trump photographed at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on November 11, 2020.
US President Donald Trump photographed at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on November 11, 2020. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump campaign is moving from state to state to try to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's win. Mounting a series of increasingly wild legal maneuvers, without credible claims, that face astronomical odds and carry little precedent.

Lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona are now attempting to advance a smattering of accusations and legal theories, some based upon vague and unsupported allegations of fraud, or complaints of minor ballot processing access, as a way to prevent state officials from certifying the popular vote results, which currently all favor Biden.

"As the Trump campaign has come forward with its legal arguments, they haven't really produced any facts or legal theory that's stronger than when they started," election lawyer and CNN analyst Rick Hasen said.   

President Trump's campaign strategy increasingly appears to be to cast enough doubt over vote counts so it can find judges to block states from certifying the choice its voters made, according to elections experts, including longtime Republican lawyer-turned-CNN analyst Ben Ginsberg.

The Electoral College doesn't formally select the president until Dec. 14, with a key deadline of Dec. 8.

If that worked, in theory, it could then open the path for state legislatures — especially the Republicans in power in Michigan and Pennsylvania — to argue they should make their own choice for their Electoral College slate, handing Trump a victory that goes against Biden's win in more than one state. But it couldn't come close to giving Trump the electoral win without lots of help. 

Both liberal and conservative legal experts say the theoretical approach Trump appears to be trying is extremely unlikely. Even longtime GOP strategist Karl Rove wrote in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday night that Biden's win wouldn't be overturned.

"To win, Mr. Trump must prove systemic fraud, with illegal votes in the tens of thousands. There is no evidence of that so far. Unless some emerges quickly, the president's chances in court will decline precipitously when states start certifying results," wrote Rove, who is long considered a mastermind of political maneuvering during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Lawyers for the Biden campaign have called the Trump campaign lawsuits theater, and nothing more. 

8:05 a.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Here's a look at who could serve in the Biden-Harris administration

From CNN's Kate Sullivan, Gregory Krieg, Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny

President-elect Joe Biden is set to announce who will serve in top roles in his administration in the coming days and weeks.

The process began Wednesday with the Biden transition office's announcement that Ron Klain, one of Biden's most trusted campaign advisers, had been tapped to serve as his incoming chief of staff.

Long seen as the most likely pick for the top job, Klain previously served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration and Biden during his tenure as President Barack Obama's vice president.

Each of Biden's Cabinet nominees will need to be confirmed by the US Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans. Two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5 could determine which party controls the chamber and impact the Cabinet confirmation process.

The Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

Several key positions also have Cabinet-level rank: White House chief of staff, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Office of Management & Budget director, United States Trade Representative ambassador, Council of Economic Advisers chairman and Small Business Administration administrator.

Read up below on who has been mentioned in conversations about potential top roles in the Biden administration:

1:24 p.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Concession is a custom — not something required under the law

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

The White House in Washington, is seen early Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020.
The White House in Washington, is seen early Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Conceding a lost election is the classy thing to do and it has usually been a part of the country coming together after a divisive campaign.

But President Trump has not yet conceded to Joe Biden, who was projected the winner of the 2020 election on Saturday, and has not indicated he has any intention of doing so.

Yet concession is a custom, not something required under the law. There are usually two elements to a concession — a call to the victor and a speech to supporters.

Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede in 2016 and she addressed supporters after it was clear she'd lose (although she advised Biden not to concede if the election was at all close and to let things play out).

John McCain set the modern standard for graciously conceding when he told supporters, "A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love." Read it here.

Al Gore called George W. Bush to concede on Election Night in 2000, then called him back to un-concede when results in Florida tightened. He ultimately did concede, 36 days later, after the Supreme Court ended recounts and gave the White House to Bush. And he gave a conciliatory speech to the nation even as his supporters fumed at the result.

At some point — maybe not today and maybe not until legal options are exhausted — it will become clear to people around Trump and to Republicans in Congress that this thing is over.

Maybe it will come when Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, has to fulfill his official role of certifying the counting of electoral college votes in the House chamber in January.

Losers, who are generally part of the government, usually attend the winner's inauguration in modern times. It's unclear if Trump would do that or not. It might be a fitting coda to Trump's leadership style that he would refuse to acknowledge his loss.

The constitution is very clear that a new president will take the oath of office on Jan. 20 at noon. That will happen if Trump loses graciously or if he has to be escorted out of the Oval Office by Secret Service, although it's not exactly clear what the Secret Servce would do in the event Trump wouldn't leave.

Read more here.