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Trump Administration Is Still Not Cooperating With Biden's Transition Team

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. A smooth transition of power is critical in any democracy. In this country, that process usually starts in earnest right after the presidential election is called - but not this time. The Trump White House, as we've been hearing, still does not accept that Joe Biden won the election. And even though cooperation is required by law, the administration has told government officials not to cooperate with this transition.

John Podesta knows some things about transitions. He was Bill Clinton's chief of staff from 1998 to 2001, and he co-chaired President Obama's transition team in 2008. Good morning to you, Mr. Podesta.

JOHN PODESTA: Good morning, Noel.

KING: This election was called on Saturday, so it's been roughly five days. What should be happening five days into a transition?

PODESTA: Well, the president-elect and vice president-elect should have full access to what the statutes of the (laughter) United States provide for them. That specifically means access to intelligence material. They should be having their landing teams, which they have named and put up on their website, be able to get into the federal agencies. You know, in 2008, when President-elect Obama was declared the winner in the early hours of the day after the election, the GSA immediately ascertained that he was the apparent successful candidate. And we had access to the facilities, the technology, the people. We were in the middle of a financial crisis, as you'll remember...

KING: Yeah.

PODESTA: ...To Secretary Paulson, one of our key economic team leaders, spent, you know, just endless hours at the Treasury Department, looking at the forecasts.

KING: What you're telling us is that there is actually a ton that gets done in the first five days. And you're making me very, very curious. If the Trump administration won't cooperate, what would your advice be to the Biden administration? Are there places you can work around?

PODESTA: Yeah. Well, I think there - you know, I worked in the transition in the - in 1992, when President Clinton was elected. And I think - as the years have gone by, people recognize this as an extremely important part of governing and the transfer of power. So people get started early. That access to information, that ability to get into the agencies, to get accurate budget information, to look and see where the problems lie - and in Trump's case, I have no doubt they're probably laying some landmines (laughter) even as they're walking out the door - that, really, is essential.

KING: It has only been five days. Senate Republicans say the administration will cooperate after states have counted all the votes and certified the winner, and so all of this worry is really unnecessary. What do you think?

PODESTA: It's dangerous. We just clocked 148,000 coronavirus positives yesterday. We're seeing the death rate spike up over 1,500 yesterday. The plans of the task force that President-elect Biden has just appointed need to get going. They need to have access to what the plans at the DoD to distribute that vaccine that we - that holds so much promise are. What is HHS doing? What's going on in FDA? It's dangerous to delay this.

And, of course, planning for a way out of this deep, economic recession that was really caused by the mishandling of the corona 19 (ph) pandemic, I think, is - also really needs to get underway. There are national security implications. The president's talking to foreign leaders without support from the State Department. I think it's just a mess. And it's characteristic of probably the way the president came into office. If you remember, he had a transition stood up under Governor Chris Christie, and then he immediately fired him and put Mike Pence in charge. And they started from scratch...

KING: Yes, it was a messy transition. I do remember that. It was a messy transition. And then one of the big takeaways was nothing disastrous happened, which, OK, doesn't give us that much consolation this time around because we can't predict the future. Let me ask you a bigger - sort of bigger-picture question here. If President Trump doesn't concede the election after states like Georgia and Pennsylvania have certified that Joe Biden has, indeed, won and he says he will not leave, what do you think happens then?

PODESTA: Well, I just think that is implausible, you know (laughter)? At some point...

KING: It's not going to happen?

PODESTA: ...They'll pick him up and carry him out of the White House. But I don't think that's going to happen. You know, he's had remarkable support from congressional Republicans even in this folly that is going on right now, where I don't think you could find a member of Congress or a senator who really thinks that there's any chance that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Yet, they back him up because, I guess, they're afraid of him. But I think, at some point, the inevitable becomes, in fact, the inevitable. And he will have to decamp from the White House. And the transition of power will take place on January 20. And Vice President Biden - President-elect Biden will become President Biden.

KING: But given the messy situation that we're in now with respect to this transition, do you think U.S. protocols need to be stronger to withstand other leaders in the future who might try to operate in the mold of President Trump? Just a minute left.

PODESTA: Well, I think that we've seen a succession of statutes passed, the first one, really, after 9/11, when the 9/11 Commission concluded that the shortness of the transition prevented the incoming Bush national security team from fully getting in place and fully understanding the threat. And since then, I think there's been movements to strengthen the transition law. And I think that needs to continue.

KING: OK. So you're saying we are doing what needs to be done. John Podesta was co-chair of President Obama's transition team. He's now chair of the Center for American Progress. Thank you, sir.

PODESTA: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.