GSA Leader Consulted With Predecessor Who Faced 2000 Recount

UNITED STATES - MARCH 13: GSA Administrator Emily Murphy arrives to tesitfy during the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on "GSA (General Services Adm... UNITED STATES - MARCH 13: GSA Administrator Emily Murphy arrives to tesitfy during the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on "GSA (General Services Administration) Oversight Hearing" on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) MORE LESS
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November 16, 2020 1:23 p.m.

As President Donald Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge defeat, pundits and politicos have trained their fire on a Trump administration official whose say-so would open the doors of government to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team — the head of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy.

Murphy, in turn, has maintained a strict silence about why she’s withheld the official “ascertainment” that would grant additional resources and access to the Biden team. But she has reached out to the one man on Earth whose experience has remotely echoed her own: The GSA administrator during the 2000 Bush v. Gore recount, Dave Barram. 

Barram, who held off on officially ascertaining Bush to be the winner of the 2000 contest until the Supreme Court weighed in in December, told TPM over the weekend that he’d spoken by phone and email to Murphy about her situation. 

“I think she really wants to do the right thing, I just think that the pressures on her are heavy,” Barram told TPM. “I’ve not said anything about what she should do. I was asked point blank, ‘Would you ascertain?’ And I’m not going to answer that because it’s not fair to her.”

A GSA spokesperson disputed any speculation that Murphy was receiving pressure from the White House.

“This is the administrator’s decision, she is focused on doing her job,” the spokesperson said.

Barram’s point of view is clear: Biden is the obvious victor of the 2020 election. This presidential contest may have resembled the one two decades ago “for maybe two days, when it really wasn’t clear who’d won,” he said, but the ballot count since has been undeniable. 

“The only thing unclear is why Donald Trump keeps holding off” on conceding, he said, adding separately: “I just think it’s disgusting and embarrassing behavior by the President. He should concede.”

The former GSA administrator said he was also “disgusted” with Republican senators who haven’t given Murphy any cover: If just 10 of them would recognize reality, he said, Murphy “might feel like, ‘Okay, if I get fired, at least I’ve got other Republicans who don’t feel like I’m an idiot.’” 

There’s no sign yet of such fortitude: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has cosponsored multiple updates to presidential transition law, said last week that there was “nothing” to congratulate Joe Biden about. 

And Trump, obviously, isn’t budging: He’s keeping the gravy train rolling and pursuing a series of no-shot lawsuits while pushing out fundraising messages to supporters advertising his fishy “election defense fund.” 

The GSA, for its part, has tried unsuccessfully to avoid the spotlight, releasing brief statements and otherwise mostly declining to speak to reporters on the record. The Washington Post first reported last week that Murphy had reached out to Barram.

A GSA spokesperson recently pointed to “prior precedent established by the Clinton Administration in 2000” in holding off on an ascertainment. And it’s true that in early December 2000, Barram testified that “the law does not authorize me to pick the next President or predict who the next president will be.” 

But back then, Barram told TPM, a few hundred votes in a single state determined the president-elect. Now, it’s thousands of votes across several states. 

“From a logical, common-sense point of view, Trump is not going to overturn those states and get enough electoral votes to win,” he said. “So, to me, the administrator would be justified in making the decision based on the evidence that’s sitting in front of our faces right now, as a country.” 

Barram declined to get into details about his conversations with the current administrator, but he speculated that Murphy feels pressure from a President who’s quick to lash out at those deemed disloyal, and cited the recent firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“She obviously knew that happened,” Barram said of Murphy. “I mean, she’s young and has a career ahead of her. The one piece of advice I would give to the Republican Party is, stop making it be about her and make it be about you guys.” 

“It sure is a bad example to set for the rest of us,” he said, “watching the Republicans behave this way.”

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