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Biden team taps Justice Department veterans to circumvent transition standoff

Trump's continued refusal to concede defeat has hamstrung efforts to begin the transition to a new administration.
Image: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden attends briefing with transition team in Wilmington, Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden arrives to receive a virtual briefing on the economy with his economic advisers in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 16, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's team is tapping recently departed Justice Department officials as part of an effort to prepare a transition without cooperation from the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump's refusal to admit that he lost re-election has delayed the General Services Administration from certifying Biden’s transition, creating a standoff that has prevented Biden's team from beginning the formal process of taking over the vast federal bureaucracy.

Pressure has increased, including among Republicans in Congress, to allow Biden to begin the transition process, especially on security-sensitive issues, such as intelligence and the Covid-19 response.

When it comes to the Justice Department, Biden's team is trying to avoid problems by relying on its own knowledge of the department to get organized and set priorities, according to a source familiar with the planning who was not authorized to speak publicly.

His transition team announced agency review teams last week, which included a slate of Justice Department veterans tasked with examining how to move the department forward.

In addition, some on Biden's team are working with recently departed Justice Department lawyers, as well as former law enforcement personnel, to open a window into the current administration. The team is reviewing broader policy and jurisdictional issues through publicly available and open-source documents.

If Biden's team were operating under normal circumstances, the transition would already be working with liaisons from all sections of the Justice Department, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But without GSA approval, those discussions have not begun.

The source added that while it would be nice to have a list of all pending litigation and to be briefed on current investigations, the team is most concerned about being blindsided at the last minute by a major arrest or announcement. Undercover operations, corruption cases or investigations into well-known figures are kept under wraps and could be a surprise for the Biden team.

The Justice Department also plays a key role in national security, adding to concerns that Biden's team isn't getting the needed intelligence briefings that will allow it to seamlessly take over any cases.

The FBI has a team prepared to brief Biden, once it is authorized to do so, an official in the bureau said. That includes raw intelligence, some of which is in the regular intelligence briefing but also includes details about major investigations.