Trump’s Transition Honcho Warns Transitions Shouldn’t Rely On ‘Goodwill’ Of Losing POTUS

US President Donald Trump and Chris Liddell, director of strategic initiatives, hold up a chart outlining the process to build a federal highway, as Trump talks about his administration's efforts in deregulation in t... US President Donald Trump and Chris Liddell, director of strategic initiatives, hold up a chart outlining the process to build a federal highway, as Trump talks about his administration's efforts in deregulation in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 22, 2021 11:12 a.m.

The man who led the Trump White House’s transition to the Biden administration is calling for new, tougher legislation to guide the presidential transition process in the event a sitting President rejects the election results. 

Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of his loss in November meant weeks of delay and and little cooperation between parts of his administration and the incoming Biden team — an absolute worst case scenario, outgoing White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell said in an interview Tuesday, his last full day in that job.

“We have to think about the fact that this can happen again,” Liddell told the Transition Lab podcast. He called for new legislation to allow for “provisional” transitions so that security briefings and other key processes can begin even during such a dispute. 

The problems started at the top.

During the prior two administrations, Presidents Bush and Obama instructed their Cabinet agencies to cooperate with the transition. That wasn’t the case this time around, Transition Lab host David Marchick noted. 

“Without the President’s direct intervention or instructions, it made it impossible for you to push some agencies,” Marchick said. 

“Yeah, and again, I come back to, I don’t think we should have a situation where that’s needed,” Liddell responded. “This should just happen as a matter of course and a matter of expectation. It shouldn’t be a situation where you’re requiring good will and arbitrary decisions, to the extent possible.” 

Parts of the Biden transition were delayed for several weeks because the leader of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, refused to “ascertain” that Biden was the apparent winner of the race as Trump tried to overturn the results in court. 

But even after Murphy ascertained Biden’s victory, political leadership in some parts of the executive branch — including at the Pentagon and the White House Budget Office — simply refused to work with the Biden administration, Marchick noted. 

Liddell said that without goodwill from the outgoing administration, he didn’t have the teeth to force cooperation from political appointees who were dragging their feet. The outgoing transition leader said he wanted transition law to be “a little more prescriptive” and less reliant on discretion. 

“Maybe ‘refused’ is too strong,” he said, referring to Trump political officials’ cooperation at the Pentagon and elsewhere. “But certainly [they] did the absolute minimum, and that was really not good enough in the circumstances.” 

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