President-elect Joe Biden should start receiving intelligence briefings, and the delay in allowing the transition to officially get started is damaging U.S. national security, President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly told POLITICO in an exclusive interview.
“You lose a lot if the transition is delayed because the new people are not allowed to get their head in the game,” Kelly said Friday. “The president, with all due respect, does not have to concede. But it’s about the nation. It hurts our national security because the people who should be getting [up to speed], it’s not a process where you go from zero to 1,000 miles per hour.”
“Mr. Trump doesn’t have to concede if he doesn’t want to, I guess, until the full election process is complete. But there’s nothing wrong with starting the transition, starting to get people like the national security people, obviously the president and the vice president-elect, if they are in fact elected, to start getting them [up to speed] on the intelligence,” he said.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, served as Trump’s chief of staff from July 2017 to early Jan. 2019. Trump lost patience with his strict management style and Kelly grew exasperated trying to put guardrails around the president.
Kelly said that starting transition intelligence briefings early is key because it’s a gradual process.
“The transition, in the national security realm in particular and the homeland security realm, is just so important that every day that the transition is delayed really kind of handicaps” the new team, he said.
A number of prominent Senate Republicans including Sens. James Lankford (Okla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) have also called for Biden to start getting briefings.
“I think it’s crazy not to” start the transition, Kelly said. “I know Mr. Trump better than most people do. I know that he’ll never accept defeat and, in fact, he doesn’t have to accept defeat here. He just has to do what’s best for the country and in the country’s interest.”
Kelly, who served as Trump’s homeland security secretary before he became chief of staff, said that incoming senior Biden White House staffers should also be allowed to interact with federal agencies to get trained on important issues that they will start dealing with on Jan. 20. So far, the administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, has not determined that Biden is officially the president-elect, which has blocked agencies and the Biden transition team from interacting.
“If you’re the incoming chief of staff, maybe you want to spend some time with the FBI, you want to spend some time at NSA, whatever, to get you up on the ball so that if and when you do take over, you’re fully briefed up and you’re comfortable understanding the short, medium and long-term threats,” he said.
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