Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) retreated on Monday from his full-throated call for the Trump administration to grant President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team access to highly classified intelligence briefings.
Lankford, a member of the Senate oversight committee, made headlines last week when he vowed to intervene if Biden wasn’t offered the briefings by the end of the week.
“There is no loss from him getting the briefings,” Lankford told radio station KRMG. “And if that’s not occurring by Friday, I will step in as well and … say, ‘This needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task.’”
Presidents-elect are typically granted access to the daily presidential briefings as part of the transition process. But the head of the government’s General Services Administration ― a Trump appointee ― has refused to “ascertain” Biden as the president-elect, blocking funds as well as his access to personnel and information that would facilitate a transition between presidencies, including presidential briefings. (Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives highly classified intelligence briefings as a member of the Senate intelligence committee.)
Lankford appeared to backtrack on his forceful stance on Monday, telling CNN that he’s gotten “involved” on the matter but that his hands are essentially tied.
“I did step in,” Lankford said, adding that he spoke to the GSA on Friday.
“We talked through the process, where they’re coming from,” he continued. “I talked through what I see is a good process, but I’m just not going to go into all the details.”
Lankford defended the GSA for not moving the presidential transition along, stating there’s “no way” the agency can ascertain Biden as president-elect if Trump is disputing the election and states haven’t certified the results.
“GSA is not the electors,” Lankford told CNN. He said Biden should continue to have access to the intelligence briefings he has received as a candidate, but should not have access to the presidential briefings until he’s officially declared president-elect.
After Lankford’s comments last week, several other Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said they believed Biden should receive the presidential intelligence briefings.
Lankford and Grassley suggested last week that it was an issue of precedent, pointing to the 2000 presidential election, when both George W. Bush and Al Gore received the briefings until the results were settled that December.
During an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax on Saturday, Lankford accused the media of overblowing his comments earlier in the week.
“I’m not in a hurry, necessarily, to get Joe Biden these briefings,” Lankford said. “It’s been interesting how the media ― national media, not this network but others ― have twisted this term ‘step in.’”
Biden urged the Trump administration on Monday to stop delaying the transition, calling the stalled process “embarrassing” for the United States.
Trump’s refusal to concede the election and allow for a smooth transition could result in more COVID-19 deaths, the president-elect said.
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