Biden's transition moves ahead

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:02 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020
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7:45 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Trump pardons Michael Flynn

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Michael Flynn exits federal court in Washington, DC, on Monday, June 24, 2019.
Michael Flynn exits federal court in Washington, DC, on Monday, June 24, 2019. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Trump has tweeted that he has “granted a Full Pardon” to former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!" Trump tweeted.

The Department of Justice was not consulted on the pardon but was given a heads-up on Wednesday, according to a Department of Justice official.  

“We would have preferred to see if Judge Sullivan would act and for the matter to be resolved in court. We were confident in the likelihood of our success in the case,” the official said. “That being said, this is obviously an appropriate use of the President’s pardon power.”

Flynn's tenure at the White House lasted just a few weeks — he resigned early 2017 after getting caught in a public lie about his Russian contacts.

He pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about those contacts, but later disavowed his plea and tried to get the case thrown out. In a shocking twist this spring, the Justice Department abandoned the case, which is still tied up in legal limbo.

Throughout the saga, Flynn has narrowly avoided being sentenced.

He's also become an emblem of Trump's persistent efforts to undermine the Russia investigation and a conduit for testing the separation of powers between judges and prosecutors. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, manager of the House impeachment investigation into Trump and chairman of the House Intel Committee, reacted to Trump’s pardon of Flynn this afternoon.

Schiff said in a statement, “There is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the Framer’s intent.”

Some background: To date, Trump's record on presidential pardons has been marked by personal connections, showmanship and an aversion to going through official government channels.

Beneficiaries have won clemency by getting their requests to Trump through friends, Fox News personalities or Hollywood celebrities who talk to the President. That unusual pipeline has worked for people like Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff, Dinesh D'Souza, right-wing commentator, and Michael Milken, a financier convicted of securities fraud.

CNN's Christina Carrega contributed to this report.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more:

4:16 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Harris says she has not spoken to Vice President Mike Pence

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris answers a question from the media as she visits DC Central Kitchen on November 25, in Washington D.C.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris answers a question from the media as she visits DC Central Kitchen on November 25, in Washington D.C. Andrew Harnik/AP

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris told reporters she has “not yet” spoken to current Vice President Mike Pence, while standing alongside husband Doug Emhoff as the pair made a surprise stop by DC Central Kitchen to thank CEO Mike Curtin, Chef and philanthropist José Andrés and the rest of their staff for their work combatting hunger.

Harris also said she couldn’t “speak directly” to whether she has spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or other Republicans on Capitol Hill. Harris, who once inaugurated will become the president of the Senate and presides over daily proceedings, was seen last week greeting GOP members with fist-bumps and laughs on the Senate floor.

“I can't speak directly to that, but I will tell you that it has been the priority for the President-elect and me from the beginning that we intend to and will work across the aisle to deal with these most impactful issues that are affecting people regardless of who they voted for in the election,” Harris told reporters. 

Before the quick Q&A, Harris thanked the group, who combat hunger and poverty through job training and creation, according to the organizations website. Harris recited familiar statistics of the child poverty rate and the difference between charity and duty, and spent a few minutes talking directly to Andrés about her plans to celebrate the holiday this year without her larger family.

For his part, Emhoff talked about seeing the issue of food insecurity first hand during his travels for the general campaign and plans to incorporate that into his portfolio.

“I traveled the country and food insecurity was a big issue that I saw when I traveled all over,” he said. “As I’m figuring out the things I’ll be passionate about, this is definitely one of them.”

6:07 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

State Department sent out a notice on the transition Wednesday

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

A department notice went out at the State Department Wednesday morning about the transition. 

“Following the November 3 election, representatives of President Elect Biden's transition team have arrived at the Department of State to support preparations for the transition,” the notice said, the contents of which were shared with CNN.

It said that a dedicated Executive Secretariat team under the guidance of Amb. Daniel Smith, a career foreign service officer who is currently the director of the Foreign Service Institute, “will support the transition team to ensure they receive information and logistical support, including with security clearances, legal issues, human resources, and information management.”

The staff of the Executive Secretariat – known as the Line – will coordinate State Department communications, meetings, and conversations with the transition team, according to the notice.

“This will ensure that the department and members of the transition team comply with applicable law and policies, including security and non-disclosure requirements, and that requests for information are assigned to the appropriate department offices,” it said.

Some context: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has yet to publicly acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect. With regard to the transition, he said on Fox News Tuesday night that the department will “do everything that’s required by law.”

In a message to State Department employees Tuesday, Pompeo commemorated both Election Day and Veterans Day, but did not speak about the outcome of the election.

3:27 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Trump campaign's fundraising emails continue even after government agency acknowledges Biden's win

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten and Betsy Klein

359. That’s the number of fundraising emails President Trump’s political operation has sent to supporters since 11 p.m. ET on election night. And they have not stopped.

On Wednesday morning — two days after the General Services Administration acknowledged Joe Biden’s win and set in motion the transition to a new administration — the Trump camp continued to send fundraising emails, claiming “this election is not over.”

Some missives, labeled “Rudy Giuliani Alerts,” touted false claims of voter fraud. “Make no mistake about it: Democrats are attempting to STEAL this Election and the White House,” one read.

Another sent early Wednesday morning asks supporters to contribute “IMMEDIATELY to the Georgia Recount Fund and DEMAND an HONEST recount.”

Trump requested another recount of the roughly 5 million ballots cast in Georgia, after a hand recount confirmed Biden as the winner. But Georgia taxpayers – rather than the Trump campaign – will foot the bill for the machine recount now under way.

The Trump campaign has not responded to requests for comment.

As CNN has previously reported, the biggest beneficiary of Trump’s fundraising is a leadership PAC he established earlier this month that will allow him to fund his post-White House political ventures and maintain his influence in the Republican Party. Seventy-five percent of donations go first to his new political vehicle, Save America. His campaign’s recount account only receives a piece of donations that top $5,000.

One fundraising email Wednesday from the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump offered a slight shift in messaging. It claims Biden is intent on implementing a “RADICAL agenda.”

“We cannot sit by and let them undo all that we have achieved these past four years - it’s imperative that we keep fighting to SAVE AMERICA,” it added, mirroring the name of Trump’s fledgling political action committee.

3:21 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Mexico's president again declines to congratulate Biden

From CNN's Jaide Garcia

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico's president, speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City on November 25.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico's president, speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City on November 25. Alejandro Cegarra/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador again declined to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday for winning the US presidential election. 

López Obrador restated his intention to wait until the electoral process is finished to announce his congratulations, adding that he has nothing against any candidate or party. 

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Russian president Vladimir Putin join López Obrador in waiting or declining to acknowledge Biden as the new president-elect.

The Kremlin said on Monday it's still too early to acknowledge a winner, and they will accept results after all lawsuits are completed. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message on Wednesday, more than two weeks after US media called the race for the Democratic candidate. 

4:09 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Biden delivers Thanksgiving eve address as Covid-19 cases surge ahead of holiday 

From CNN's Kate Sullivan, Jason Hanna and Christina Maxouris

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater on November 25, in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater on November 25, in Wilmington, Delaware. Carolyn Kaster/AP

President-elect Joe Biden is delivering a Thanksgiving address from Wilmington, Delaware.

He called for unity as the country enters the holiday and continues to battle the pandemic.

"We've fought a nearly year-long battle with the virus that has devastated this nation. It's brought us pain and loss and frustration, and it's cost so many lives, 260,000 Americans and counting. It's divided us, angered us, set us against one another. I know the country has grown weary of the fight," Biden said.

"We need to remember we're at war with the virus, not with one another, not with each other. This is the moment where we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts and recommit ourselves to the fight. Let's remember, we're all in this together. Sounds trite to say it, but we're all in this together," Biden continued.

Biden's remarks come as coronavirus cases spike nationwide and a fresh wave of public health restrictions have been put in place to control the spread of the virus.

More than 88,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals across the country on Tuesday, the 15th straight day that figure set a record for the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The nation reported 2,146 deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. This is only the second time since early May that the US has topped 2,000 reported deaths in a single day. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week that Americans do not travel for Thanksgiving, and the nation's top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Americans to keep their indoor holiday gatherings as "small as you possibly can."

6:08 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Biden's inauguration will likely look different due to the pandemic

From CNN's Kate Bennett and Lauren Fox

Workers prepare for the Presidential inauguration outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 9.
Workers prepare for the Presidential inauguration outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 9. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Outside President Trump's bedroom window on the north side of the White House is the sound of building: hammers, drills, the beep-beep of trucks backing up and metal planks clanking into place.

Construction of the parade platform for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration festivities is well underway. The viewing stand and bleachers are almost complete and each day they get closer to being done — all within Trump's view —as it becomes clearer his days in the White House are coming to a close.

Despite the uncertainty of the coronavirus and Trump's waning attempts to overturn the election, the structure is a growing reminder of the transition now in motion.

Whatever else must change to accommodate the pandemic, people are getting ready for Biden's inauguration come January, which will likely reflect the President-elect's cautious, science-driven approach to the pandemic.

What's more, the outgoing president may not even go to the incoming president's swearing-in. Three White House officials familiar with Trump's moods and patterns speculate he won't be there for the hand-off.

"I can't foresee a scenario where he goes and that tradition carries on as normal," one of the officials tells CNN.

No doubt, the pomp and circumstance will be noticeably different this time around, according to interviews with multiple aides and administration officials, from the White House to Capitol Hill to the DC mayor's office. The future of the traditional luncheon in Statuary Hall is up in the air, and it's unlikely a choir behind the new President will be feasible.

The expectation is the inauguration will be smaller, too, and attendees will have to wear masks and maintain social distance within the ticketed parameters.

The congressional committee tasked with choreographing the festivities at the Capitol has tried to map out plans for a range of scenarios with consultation from medical experts, aides say.

The committee has been in an awkward limbo since Election Day, as Trump's refusal to accept his loss mounted. While unable to dive-in exclusively with Biden's team, the committee has spent the last several months making plans for whoever won the election. Aides maintained neutrality in recent weeks as Trump's denial dragged on, communicating with both his and Biden's teams as to what the options could be for Jan. 20.

Read more here

1:59 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Biden team met today with HHS and Operation Warp Speed officials

From CNN's Sara Murray

Members of Joe Biden's transition team convened via teleconference today with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and Operation Warp Speed, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

It was an introductory meeting that included Operation Warp Speed project leads: Matt Hepburn, who is leading the vaccine effort; Janet Woodcock, who is leading therapeutics and Paul Ostrowski, who is leading supply and distribution. The call also included Jay Butler, deputy director for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the person familiar. 

Brian Harrison, chief of staff at HHS, kicked off the meeting by reiterating to the Biden team that HHS supports a smooth and cooperative transition process. This is expected to be the first of many meetings regarding Operation Warp Speed, the person familiar said. 

An HHS spokesperson added that: “HHS is committed to smooth, professional transition planning, and held an initial briefing facilitated by RADM Schwartz, HHS’s career transition director, with members of the Biden agency review team, project leads from Operation Warp Speed, and HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison.”

2:40 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Biden will thank Americans for "resilience and strength" in Thanksgiving eve address

From CNN’s Arlette Saenz

Mark Makela/Getty Images
Mark Makela/Getty Images

In his Thanksgiving address this afternoon, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to thank Americans for their “resilience and strength” and issue a call for unity as he talks about the “shared sacrifices” many Americans are making during the holiday season while the Covid-19 crisis grips the country, a transition official said.

With Americans changing their traditional Thanksgiving plans due to the pandemic, the President-elect recently said he was foregoing his typically large Biden Thanksgiving and limiting his own family’s gathering to only three people. 

Biden’s transition team earlier today said Biden plans to spend the Thanksgiving holiday and day after with his family with no in-person events on his schedule.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week that Americans do not travel for Thanksgiving, and the nation's top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Americans to keep their indoor holiday gatherings as "small as you possibly can."