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Biden's National Security Adviser: Pentagon Hasn't Granted Meetings Since Dec. 18

Jake Sullivan is President-elect Joe Biden's incoming national security adviser.
Mark Makela
Getty Images
Jake Sullivan is President-elect Joe Biden's incoming national security adviser.

The outgoing Trump administration still isn't providing information in the way President-elect Joe Biden's lieutenants feel is appropriate for a team poised to take the reins of power, incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NPR on Tuesday.

Sullivan told NPR's Scott Detrow in an exclusive interview that the Defense Department hasn't granted a meeting to the Biden transition since Dec. 18.

The two sides have been sparring since that date when President Trump's acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, said that the two camps had mutually agreed to a break in meetings; Biden's team said it never agreed to such a pause.

On Monday, Miller said in a statement that he believed the Pentagon is being appropriately cooperative with the Biden transition.

"He's wrong," Sullivan said, adding: "Literally dozens of written requests for information are outstanding as we speak."

Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their deputies need to be read in on a number of urgent issues, including the big cyberattack believed to have originated in Russia that compromised a huge swath of U.S. government systems; the progress of COVID-19 vaccine distribution; and more, Sullivan said.

His remarks followed a day after similar comments by Biden, which prompted the response from Miller. Sullivan, however, went into greater detail about the frustrations Biden's team has with feeling boxed out of the current posture of the government, including the war in Afghanistan.

The United States has been hoping to broker peace negotiations within Afghanistan between its Washington-backed government and the insurgent Taliban. Biden has vowed to wind down what he called America's "forever wars," a goal he broadly shares with Trump. But Sullivan complained to NPR on Tuesday that if the incoming administration can't know what's happening with those types of issues, that could delay its ability to act once in office.

"It kind of comes back to the lack of visibility that we have right now into a number of critical issues relating to military operations because of DoD's obstruction and roadblocks," he said, "and that will mean that we are going to have to take time at the beginning of the administration after Jan. 20 to take a hard look at how we're postured, and what threats we're up against, and what continuing the drawdowns look like in the way of risk to force and other considerations."

Connecting the strategic to the local

Sullivan also discussed his and Biden's desires to bridge foreign policy and national security decision-making in Washington with the lives of everyday Americans. A globalized world and the sweeping implications of what can seem like distant statecraft mean that people have a stake in geopolitical issues, even if they don't feel that way, he said.

An obvious example is China, Sullivan said, which is a vital trading partner to the U.S., even as it also seeks to rival American influence.

The Trump administration hollowed out foreign policymaking in these types of areas and dealt with counterparts in Beijing on behalf of Trump and powerful interests, Sullivan said — not according to the mindset he said Biden will adopt in the White House.

"What were their negotiating priorities? What did they push for? Well, one of the things they pushed for was access for major U.S. financial institutions to do business in China," Sullivan said. "And the question I would pose is, what does that have to do with jobs and wages here in the United States, making it easier for the likes of JPMorgan or Goldman Sachs to be able to carry out financial activities in Beijing or Shanghai? I would say it doesn't have a strong nexus to the well-being and welfare of the American middle class."

Sullivan said he and Biden would attempt to draw a line from more vital problems to their policymaking, such as the theft by China of American industrial and commercial secrets — which harms American companies and, he suggested, U.S. workers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.