One of the first rights of a presidential candidate after winning the election is access to the same highly-classified intelligence briefings about pressing national security issues that their soon-to-be predecessor has been offered daily.
But with the election not yet ascertained by the General Services Administration (GSA), President-elect Joe Biden and his senior advisers are not yet receiving the Presidential Daily Brief, as it’s known.
"ODNI follows the statutory direction provided in the Presidential Transition Act, which requires ascertainment of the candidate by the administrator of GSA prior to supporting a potential presidential transition,” the Office of Director of National Intelligence said in a Monday evening statement. “ODNI would not have contact with any transition team until notified by the GSA Administrator.”
The statement is a clear indication that the Biden transition team is not getting the same briefings that president-elects typically receive. What remains unclear, however, is whether in fact the race needs to be ascertained before the President-elect can legally receive the briefings.
What this means: “Ascertainment” is granted by the administrator of the General Services Administration and until she signs a letter, presidential-level intelligence briefings are one of the key components of the transition on hold.
“Past practice was that the president-elect would receive the PDB daily,” said the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who briefed Trump after he won. “It was, as I recall, identical to what the President received.”
Once Biden became the Democratic nominee, he was granted expanded intelligence briefings and his campaign was offered more specific briefings on threats to the election, both by the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
“It should change when you have a president-elect because it’s not theoretical anymore. You need to be ready for North Korea issue ‘A’ or Iran issue ‘B,’” said Robert Cardillo, a former PDB briefer to President Barack Obama.
But giving more access to Biden and his top advisers “would imply that you’re accepting the results,” according to Cardillo, whose name has been mentioned for a potential senior intelligence position in the Biden administration. “To me it would be highly, highly unlikely. No one would want to face the wrath of the current president.”
Transition put the fiercely apolitical intelligence community in an awkward position, says Clapper, who has been highly critical of Trump.
“The IC has to serve, essentially, two Presidents at the same time,” Clapper said. “I know [during the Obama-Trump transition] we discussed whether any particularly sensitive articles should be excluded from the President-elect’s version, but don’t believe we actually did so.”