“As the president-elect noted yesterday, the Department of Defense has continued to refuse to meet with our agency’s team members,” Ned Price spokesman Ned Price said in a statement to CNN.
“There has been no significant progress since transition officials spoke of irreconcilability from the department’s political leadership late last week,” Price said. “As we said at the time, no department is more crucial to our national security than the Department of Defense, and a reluctance to work together could have consequences far beyond January 20th.”
An unnamed Pentagon official denied the allegations in a statement, saying Biden’s claim that the Department of Defense would not inform his team of “blatantly false.”
Tensions between the Biden transition and President Donald Trump’s political nominee in the Pentagon have been simmering for weeks, but this recent exchange marked a significant escalation as unnamed Pentagon officials essentially accused Biden of lying as he discussed the cybercrime with journalists on Tuesday and said the Department of Defense “will not even inform us of many things.”
The alleged stone wall from the Pentagon covers a wide range of defense topics, say people familiar with the matter, including the entire SolarWinds hacking probe.
The Pentagon has instructed Biden’s transition team to receive briefings on the cyber attack from an interagency group known as the Cyber Unified Coordination Group (UCG). However, this group is not a Ministry of Defense unit. The information that Biden’s team is seeking – without success 28 days before the accession – is a deeper understanding of the Ministry of Defense’s view of the cyber attack.
A Pentagon spokesman released a statement from an unnamed senior defense official saying Biden’s statement that the Department of Defense does not offer briefings is “blatantly false.” The official did not directly address or contradict the elected president’s comment that his team is not being briefed on the hack that Russia is suspected of having carried out.
“The DOD has conducted 163 interviews and 181 requests for information, which far exceeds what the Biden-Harris team originally requested,” the official told reporters.
The senior defense official acknowledged in the statement that the briefings have been suspended for two weeks – another point of contention between the Pentagon and the Biden team, who said they had not agreed on a break of that length with so few days left before the president-elect inauguration.
“The department will continue to provide the necessary information and meetings to ensure government continuity,” the senior defense official said in the statement. “As we have said, meetings start again in early January, and in fact we have started planning them.”
Last week, CNN reported that Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said the upcoming Biden team had agreed on a two-week vacation in previously scheduled transition negotiations in the Pentagon.
The Biden transition team said Friday that they did not agree on a two-week hiatus in critical power-over discussions with Pentagon officials despite Miller’s claim that both sides agreed to take such a “vacation break.”
“There was no mutually agreed-upon holiday,” Yohannes Abraham, chief executive of the Biden transition, told reporters Friday. “In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period, as there is no time left over.”