USAID officials were also told on the call that three Trump loyalists are being elevated to top positions at the agency, even as the administration enters its waning days, according to the officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on internal discussions.
The shifting leadership and the stance on the transition are causing some alarm within the agency, given President Trump’s refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden.
The administrator of the General Services Administration plays a crucial but little-known role in any transition from one administration to another, signing paperwork that releases millions of dollars and giving access to government officials, office space and equipment.
But a full 48 hours after media outlets projected Biden as the winner, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has yet to sign such a letter.
John Barsa, who holds the title of acting deputy administrator, told political appointees at USAID on Monday afternoon that the agency would not cooperate with the transition until Murphy does so. Barsa has told colleagues in other conversations that Biden has not won and emphasized the importance of not abetting the process, two people said.
“The only official announcement about an election result that matters is from the head of GSA,” Barsa said, according to a recording of the call published earlier by the Free Beacon, a conservative website. “So until the head of GSA makes a determination as to who won an election, nothing changes — there is no transition in place.”
USAID, which provides billions of dollars of humanitarian assistance to foreign countries ever year, declined to comment.
Barsa, who was formerly USAID’s acting administrator, was supposed to step down from his position at the helm of the agency last week but remained in charge after the White House fired Bonnie Glick, who had been serving as the deputy administrator.
Glick was not given any reason for her firing but had supported the steps already taken in the transition process required by law, according to a person familiar with the matter. To prepare for the transition, USAID officials put together a 440-page document designed to help smooth the transfer of power to an incoming Biden administration or provide guidance for a second Trump term.
USAID officials have been quietly prepping for the transition this fall, with career staffers putting together papers last month for a new team in case of a Biden victory. That work, which was completed before Nov. 1, was overseen by James Watson, a senior Foreign Service officer.
USAID officials also learned Monday that Max Primorac, who held previous roles focusing on religious rights in the agency, would be Barsa’s deputy, two people with knowledge of the decision said. His title will be “senior official performing the duties of the deputy administrator.”
Primorac’s behavior while at USAID over the past two years has raised eyebrows among his colleagues. In 2019, Primorac expressed confidence during a government forum that Trump would win reelection. An independent agency investigated the incident and found that Primorac did not violate the Hatch Act, which bars government officials from engaging in political activities on the job.
And in 2018, just before he joined USAID, Primorac promoted a client’s business interests to a U.N. agency funded by USAID, ProPublica reported. The client pitch sparked an ethics complaint by a State Department official, though the USAID inspector general declined to open an investigation of the incident.
Timothy Meisburger, who previously served as the director of the Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Center of Excellence at USAID, is the new acting head of the Africa bureau.
Meisburger appears to have been sharing his views on the election results on a personal Twitter account, writing on Saturday: “Hilarious. The media perpetrated hoax after hoax designed to influence the election in 2018 and 2020, and actively censored my political party, and we are supposed to accept in when THEY call the election? Never!!!”
The account, which identifies Meisburger as a “photographer,” includes many retweets of official USAID, State Department and White House accounts, as well as posts showing an official trip to Tunisia in September 2019, during the presidential elections there.
Meisburger worked at the Asia Foundation for nearly 24 years, according to his LinkedIn profile, on elections and political processes. He joined USAID as a political appointee in 2017.
On the call, Barsa also introduced White House liaison Catharine O’Neill, who previously worked at the State Department and on Trump’s reelection campaign.
Carol Morello contributed to this report.