The report found that “the new [George W. Bush] administration did not have its deputy cabinet officers in place until the spring of 2001, and the critical subcabinet officials were not confirmed until the summer — if then. In other words, the new administration — like others before it — did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office.”
While the 9/11 Commission’s proposal for reorganization of the intelligence community had the most lasting impact, it also warned about the need to address “as much as possible the disruption of national security policymaking during the change of administrations by accelerating the process for national security appointments.” Its recommendations for a seamless transition included allowing the possible successor even before the election to “submit the names of selected members of their prospective transition teams to the FBI so that, if necessary, those team members can obtain security clearances immediately after the election is over.” It also recommended that immediately after the election, the president-elect should be allowed to begin the process of obtaining security clearances for his national security picks “so that their background investigations can be complete before January 20.” (The commission also urged quick submission of national security nominees and approval by the Senate within 30 days of Jan. 20.)
Finally, the commission advised: “The outgoing administration should provide the president-elect, as soon as possible after election day, with a classified, compartmented list that catalogues specific, operational threats to national security; major military or covert operations; and pending decisions on the possible use of force. Such a document could provide both notice and a checklist, inviting a president-elect to inquire and learn more.”
The 9/11 Commission’s recommendations were incorporated by the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, which provided that “the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies responsible for conducting background investigations to conduct those investigations expeditiously, with the goal of providing appropriate security clearances before inauguration for the individuals that the President-elect has identified for high level national security positions, including secretaries and undersecretaries of cabinet-level agencies.” It also required that “the president-elect be given a classified summary as soon as possible after the election on threats to national security, covert military operations, and pending decisions on possible uses of military force.”
In refusing to move ahead with the national security aspects of the transition process, President Trump and the General Services Administration’s chief Emily W. Murphy are flagrantly violating the spirit and terms of the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act, disregarding the advice of the 9/11 Commission and willfully putting the country at great risk. It is not enough for members of Congress to mumble requests for them to move along. Republicans in particular are playing Russian roulette with our national security as they indulge the president’s delusions. All members of the so-called Gang of Eight (the speaker and minority leader in the House, the Senate majority and minority leader, and the chairs and ranking minority members of each chamber’s intelligence committee), both in writing and in a live press conference, should demand that Murphy perform her duties and that Trump stop impeding the transition law meant to prevent a national security calamity.
Any national security disaster that ensues from a rocky handoff should fall on the heads of Trump and Murphy, as well as Republican elected officials (aided and abetted by toxic right-wing media) who put Trump’s ego above national security (and defense of democracy). As Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, put it in a press call on Monday, “The time for playing around and posturing is over.”
Chertoff’s successor in the Obama administration, Janet Napolitano, echoed his warning. Trump’s antics are “causing unnecessary disruption and risk,” she cautioned. “The election is over.” It is long past time Trump, Murphy and the Republican Party as a whole start acting like it.