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Jake Sullivan On Biden Administration's Approach To National Security


President-elect Joe Biden's incoming national security adviser says the Pentagon has not granted a meeting to the Biden transition team since December 18. In an exclusive interview with NPR, Jake Sullivan said the delays that Biden himself called out yesterday are hurting the incoming team's ability to make plans to manage the pandemic, also relations with Russia, even troop levels in Afghanistan. Sullivan spoke to NPR's Scott Detrow today. Scott is here now.

Hey there.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Good afternoon to you. So you asked Jake Sullivan about these complaints from Biden, complaints that the Trump administration is throwing up roadblocks to the transition. Were you able to get Sullivan to elaborate?

DETROW: Yeah. He said the Department of Defense has continued to deny meetings and refuse written requests for information. And as you mentioned, it's been since December 18 since there was a meeting granted. This is a continuation of a disagreement that goes back a couple weeks now. The Trump administration had said both sides agreed to a holiday break in meetings. Biden officials say they have never agreed to that. Sullivan said this has made it harder for the incoming administration to figure out what to do about this major hack of government computer systems suspected to be carried out by Russia. I asked him what specifically he still needs to know.

JAKE SULLIVAN: What, if any, systems, whether classified or unclassified, whether directly connected to the Department of Defense or connected to major contractors, have been compromised, what the extent of those compromises and breaches have been and what steps are being taken to remediate that.

DETROW: And one thing he said that was pretty interesting to me - he said the Biden transition is getting information on all of this from other agencies, but it has not gotten this information from the Defense Department.

KELLY: Now, let me point out here that when this all came up yesterday, when Biden was raising these concerns, the Defense Department did respond. They put out a statement basically saying no, saying, we are fully cooperating.

DETROW: Yeah. And that statement listed more than 160 meetings that have taken place, said the current administration has provided thousands of pages of documents. So I asked Sullivan about that statement, which came from Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller.

SULLIVAN: Well, he's wrong. I mean, you know, we're now talking to one another on December 29. It has been 11 days since December 18. In those 11 days, there has not been a meeting granted to the transition team. And, you know, we're looking at, as I said before, a substantial number of very specific, important requests for information that they are not responding to.

DETROW: And he said the Biden transition is trying to figure out operational planning, what its defense budget is going to look like, among many other things.

KELLY: And what - give us just a little more detail on those other things. What are the other areas that would be affected by this lack of cooperation?

DETROW: Yeah. So we were talking broadly later in the interview about how Biden has repeatedly said he wants to scale down what he's called forever war commitments in places like Afghanistan, so I asked what the timetable will be for making decisions like that next year. And as you remember, it took almost a year to make decisions about troop levels in the first year of the Obama administration.

KELLY: Yeah.

DETROW: Sullivan said it could very likely take a long time because the incoming administration is not able to access key information right now about the state of things in Afghanistan. He clarified that is not the only factor but then said this.

SULLIVAN: But what I am saying is that the risk that we will be delayed in making decisions on this issue, as many other issues, is higher than it should be because we are not getting the kind of open and transparent cooperation that we need and that the American people deserve.

DETROW: You know, and as we mentioned before, he said that they still have not gotten enough information about Operation Warp Speed on COVID vaccines, and that's a concern that Biden raised today as well.

KELLY: All right. Scott Detrow, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you.

KELLY: And if you're intrigued, I want to let you know that Scott's going to have much more from that interview with Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser, on tomorrow's Morning Edition and also tomorrow's NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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