Tuesday, December 1

State Department blocks Biden from accessing messages from foreign leaders


Washington (CNN) — A stack of messages from foreign leaders for US President-elect Joe Biden are in the State Department, but the Trump administration prevents him from accessing them, according to department officials familiar with the messages.

Traditionally, the State Department supports all communications for the president-elect, which is why many countries began sending messages to the state over the weekend. But with the Trump administration banning Biden from accessing State Department resources because President Donald Trump refuses to accept Biden’s victory, dozens of incoming messages have not been received.

Biden’s team is in contact with foreign governments without the involvement of the State Department. And he’s made numerous calls with leaders, including Angela Merkel from Germany and Justin Trudeau from Canada. But they operate without the logistical and translation support provided by the State Department’s operations center.

“They would rather use State Department resources,” said a source familiar with the situation, noting that Biden’s team has to deal with the unexpected challenge of facilitating these calls.

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The Trump administration blocked access

Not only is the State Department blocking Biden from receiving messages and assistance to facilitate and prepare for the calls, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, saying “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration, ”sparking diplomatic furor and turmoil.

Biden is also blocked from receiving the same intelligence briefings as the president, known as the president’s daily summary. And if the Trump administration continues to block a typical transition near inauguration day on January 20, there is concern that the Biden administration is playing catch-up when he takes office.

Foreign leaders have begun to realize that the State Department cannot connect them with the president-elect and their teams have reached out to former Obama-era diplomats for help in sending congratulatory messages to the Biden team. sources told CNN. Some foreign governments feel like they are navigating an unfamiliar maze, foreign diplomats have told CNN.

CNN has asked the State Department and Biden’s transition team for comment.

In the past, the State Department has facilitated a smoother process.

“It was helpful for state operations to make the calls and provide translation services, and we are grateful for the Bush administration’s cooperation in making that happen,” said Denis McDonough, who served in the Obama administration and worked with Obama during the transition.

Calls are not very delicate

Calls being made at this time are not very sensitive, and even during a well-oiled transition period, they are typically not made on secure lines, multiple sources explained.

These calls in the past have been handled on open lines. They are congratulatory calls, ”McDonough said. And he added that both parties are providing readings, which is consistent with the protocol.

Barack Obama used to make these calls to foreign leaders on his cell phone when he was president-elect, explained a State Department official who worked to set up those calls at the time. But they all went through the operations center, which means there is a government record of the calls he made.

Career officials from the State Department are ready to help Biden’s team when the time comes.

“The agencies implemented the law faithfully before the elections. The materials are ready, the offices are ready, everything is ready. They’re waiting for the green light, ”said David Marchick, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Association for Public Service.

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What Biden’s team has done

Operating without the support of the State Department at this time, Biden’s team, made up of many experienced former government officials, has sent readings of all calls, helping to keep records. They are making an effort to formalize the process and will use State Department resources when available, said a source familiar with the ongoing situation.

This is in stark contrast to the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations. At the time, President-elect Trump chose not to use State Department resources. Instead, he made his calls from Trump Tower and resisted using the government’s coordination and support system. This meant translators and staff waited without working while Trump made calls on his own, a State Department official told CNN at the time.

At any other time since Biden left the White House, he could have called the State Department operations center to call a foreign leader, State Department officials told CNN.

Former Presidents and Vice Presidents can use the resource at any time. But now, as he is president-elect, the Trump administration is preventing Biden from using that facility.

CNN’s Evan Pérez contributed to this report.

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