Biden begins transition plans as Trump refuses to concede

By Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 9:02 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020
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3:01 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Biden transition team speaking to former Pentagon officials to get information

From CNN's Jim Sciutto and Kylie Atwood 

James Mattis arrives for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing concerning the authorizations for use of military force, October 30, 2017 in Washington.
James Mattis arrives for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing concerning the authorizations for use of military force, October 30, 2017 in Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is reaching out to former Pentagon officials who worked for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as they seek to gather information for an incoming Biden team, according to two former officials who have been contacted by the transition team. 

The conversations are the result of the inability to engage with current Pentagon officials at this time, the sources told CNN. And they come as an effort to build the transition team’s understanding about what has happened in the department over the last four years. Reaching out to former officials is “the next best thing,” one of the former officials explained.

Politico was the first to report on the communications.

More background: The Biden team is also aware that even when they are able to speak with current defense officials after the General Services Administration formally signs off on Biden’s victory, they may not be eager to engage or be as forthcoming as the officials who have already departed.  

During some of these discussions people on the Biden transition team have sometimes referred to conversations with “Mattis people,” the second former official said, indicating that they are speaking to a group of these former officials.

But the Biden transition team – focused on information gathering – has not indicated that they want to hire these former officials who worked for Mattis.

“It is nice that I am not completely toxic because I was a Trump nominee, but I do not think that they would want to fill the place up with officials who were confirmed under Trump. They are not discussing a job with me,” the official said. “I am just being as helpful as I can be.” 

The Biden transition team declined to comment.

3:03 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Trump appointee calls the President's election claims "baffling" and "insulting"

From CNN's Alex Marquardt

A senior federal election security official, who is an appointee of President Trump, has blasted the President’s post-election claims calling them baffling, laughable and insulting.

They’re the strongest rejection from a Trump administration official so far of what the President is saying.

Remember: Last Saturday major news organizations, including CNN, projected Joe Biden will win the presidential election. Since then, Trump has continued to make baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud despite no evidence, and he's launched a series of legal challenges to the results.

Ben Hovland was nominated by Trump last year and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He runs the Election Assistance Commission which, in part, tests and certifies voting machines. He also works closely with other federal agencies that oversee elections, like CISA — the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Asked what he would say to Trump about the election, he said "these conspiracy theories that are flying around, have consequences."

"At a minimum, it's insulting to the professionals that run our elections and hopefully that's the worst that comes of it," Hovland told MIT Technology Review.
"Our people, they're doing their jobs but they don't feel safe doing it. That is a tragedy. That is awful. These are public servants. This isn't a job you do for glory or to get rich," he added.

In response to Trump’s tweet that millions of his votes were deleted, Hovland calls it "pretty baffling." 

"I just wish that if claims like that were going to be made, they would actually be backed up with something credible. I think those types of statements matter. They cause Americans to lose confidence in the process," Hovland said.

The legal process that is taking place is very different than what we hear from the President and his aides, Hovland added. 

"We see bold statements on Twitter or at the podium and we see hearsay and we see laughable evidence presented to courts," Hovland said. "There's just not a correlation between those."

Hovland’s comments come as CISA Director Chris Krebs is also ratcheting up his rebukes of the President’s claims.

The Department of Homeland Security along with a group of national, state and private election officials said in a joint statement Thursday that there is no evidence of any voting system being compromised in the 2020 election despiteTrump's deluge of election fraud conspiracies. They called the election "the most secure in American history."

2:51 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

CIA director iced out of intelligence meeting at White House

From CNN's Vivian Salama and Zachary Cohen

Gina Haspel, director of the Central Intelligence Agency wears a protective mask while arriving for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, not pictured, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, November 10.
Gina Haspel, director of the Central Intelligence Agency wears a protective mask while arriving for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, not pictured, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, November 10. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A senior administration official told CNN that CIA Director Gina Haspel has been iced out of an intelligence meeting that was to take place at the White House Friday that included President Trump, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and other top intelligence officials. 

The official acknowledged that while her attendance is not mandatory, it doesn’t bode well for Haspel, although some of the President’s advisers and outside Republican allies continue to try to talk him out of firing her in this critical transition period.

The CIA declined to comment when asked if Haspel was iced out of the meeting. The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

A source familiar with recent discussions about Haspel’s potential firing told CNN that it is not surprising she was excluded from this meeting given the recent tension between her and Ratcliffe. 

Some more context: Ratcliffe is in charge of the agenda for Oval Office meetings of this nature and the Presidential Daily Brief is compiled by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence based on intelligence from various agencies, including CIA.

CNN reported Thursday that some Trump advisers believe Haspel has been "insubordinate" to both the President and Ratcliffe, arguing she routinely circumvents the chain of command to further her own agenda and that of the CIA.

But while multiple sources have told CNN they expect the President to fire Haspel, they have also emphasized that nothing is set in stone until Trump makes an announcement.

2:46 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Pennsylvania appeals court rejects GOP case against absentee ballots

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University on Wednesday, November 4, in Pennsylvania.
Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University on Wednesday, November 4, in Pennsylvania. Matt Slocum/AP

A Republican congressional candidate from Pennsylvania lost a case on appeal over ballots in Pennsylvania that arrived late. 

Jim Bognet, who also lost his race in Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District, filed the appeal just before Election Day.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case today saying the voters and the candidate, Bognet, didn't have the ability to sue and had gone to court too close to the election.

The appellate decision was in line with the lower court's ruling in the case.

It's the third court development just today that undercuts Republican attempts to push disinformation about election fraud in court.

The issue of the legality of those ballots was already at the US Supreme Court – and is still there. But Bognet and the voters had added to the effort in their own federal case that challenged those ballots, claiming that late-arriving absentee ballots in Pennsylvania hurt their Constitutional rights because they were potentially illegally cast votes.  

The ruling on Friday – which will govern federal courts in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – also appears to block voters from making broad, theoretical claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution about the possible dilution of their votes.

"This conceptualization of vote dilution—state actors counting ballots in violation of state election law—is not a concrete harm under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," the court wrote.
"Two voters could each have cast a mail-in ballot before Election Day at the same time, yet perhaps only one of their ballots arrived by 8:00 P.M. on Election Day, given USPS’s mail delivery process. It is passing strange to assume that one of these voters would be denied 'equal protection of the laws' were both votes counted."

Lawyers representing Republicans in other suits since Election Day have tried to make similar Constitutional arguments to block Biden's win in states including Pennsylvania.

"To bring suit, you—and you personally—must be injured, and you must be injured in a way that concretely impacts your own protected legal interests. If you are complaining about something that does not harm you—and does not harm you in a way that is concrete—then you lack standing" to sue, the court wrote.
2:42 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Here's the final electoral vote tally

CNN has projected winners in the two outstanding states — Georgia and North Carolina.

President-elect Joe Biden will win Georgia with 16 electoral college votes, and President Trump will win North Carolina with 15 electoral college votes.

Now that all the states have been projected, here's the final tally:

Biden now has 306 electoral votes — well over the 270 threshold needed to win the presidency.

Trump has a total of 232 electoral votes.

2:36 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

CNN Projection: Biden wins Georgia

President-elect Joe Biden will win Georgia, CNN projects.

There are 16 electoral votes at stake in Georgia, bringing the final electoral tally to 306 for Biden.

While Georgia's electoral votes add to Biden's total, CNN on Saturday projected Biden would win the election after the former vice president surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.

Watch CNN's David Chalian report:

2:41 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

CNN Projection: Trump wins North Carolina

President Trump will win North Carolina, CNN projects.

There are 15 electoral votes at stake in North Carolina, bringing the final electoral tally to 306 for President-elect Joe Biden and 232 for Trump.

Who won in 2016: President Trump carried the state and won the general election.


2:12 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Biden-Harris team isn't interested in a "food fight" with administrator tasked with transition

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

On a press call with reporters, Biden-Harris transition officials indicated that no new personnel announcements will be made over the weekend as Biden will be spending time with his family.

He is currently in Rehoboth Beach and is expected to stay there until Saturday evening.

Transition officials Jen Psaki and Yohannes Abraham led the call. 

They discussed Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other concerns regarding the ascertainment process.

About ascertainment: All eyes are on Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator Emily W. Murphy to recognize Biden as the president-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. You can read more on the process here.

Biden officials noted that they are not interested in a "food fight" with the administrator, but still have not taken any options, including legal action, off the table.  

"We're not interested in having a food fight with the GSA administrator or anyone," said Psaki. "We just want to get access to intelligence information, to threat assessments, to the ongoing work on Covid, so that we can prepare to govern." 

Psaki called President Trump’s firing of Esper and other changes around the Pentagon a "concern," adding there shouldn’t be politicization of the military. She stressed again that until there’s ascertainment, there won’t be official engagement between personnel – members of the agency review teams – and national security agencies with current officials. 

"Of course it's of concern to see the upheaval, it should be of concern to anybody because there shouldn't be a politicization of the military," she said. 

The transition pointed to the regular legal contact that they’ve had with nonpartisan transition experts. They argued that each day that goes on without ascertainment is detrimental to national security because Biden is not receiving "real-time" updates. 

"We've been in regular contact with federal career officials who are tasked with administering transitions who are nonpartisan career experts on transitions, including GSA," said Abraham. "There have been regular meetings of something called the Agency Transition Directors Council, which many of you are familiar with, that is comprised of representatives from the various federal agencies who are tasked with the nuts and bolts of executing on a transition.” 

They announced they will be launching a feature in the upcoming days on the transition website, that will encourage Americans to apply for roles in the Biden-Harris administration. As Biden made clear throughout his campaign, he hopes to build an administration that "looks like America," and they expressed they will be looking for "diverse experienced talent from across the country." 

1:51 p.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Michigan judge rejects attempt to block certification of Biden win in Detroit

From CNN's Jessica Schneider, Katelyn Polantz, and Annie Grayer

A Michigan judge has rejected an attempt by two poll challengers to block the certification of a Biden win in Detroit, which helped carry his victory in the state.

The judge also denied the request for an audit of the election, after two poll watchers sued for it.

The case has been among a series of attempts by Republicans to delay President-elect Joe Biden's win in key states, and hand an Electoral College victory to President Trump by blocking or overriding popular vote results.

In his opinion, Chief Judge Timothy Kenny said, 

"it would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial activism for this Court to stop the certification process of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers."

Attorney David Fink, representing Detroit, explained to the judge at Wednesday’s hearing that blocking the finalization of Michigan's votes would either knock the state out of the Electoral College, kicking the selection of the president to the US House of Representatives, or would allow the Republican-held state legislature to try to seat its own slate of electors. 

Earlier this month, Judge Kenny also denied a request in a similar lawsuit to stop the certification of election results in Detroit, noting there was no evidence that oversight procedures had not been followed.

CNN has projected Biden as the winner of the state by almost 3% over Trump, with nearly a 150,000 vote lead.

The Trump campaign has a separate lawsuit open in federal court that makes a similar attempt to slow down the certification of the state's vote for Biden. That case is in its earliest stage.