After suffering a humiliating defeat in the 2020 elections, President Donald Trump is denying President-elect Joe Biden’s team access to agencies during the transition period. The unprecedented stance has prompted nearly two dozen House committee chairs to send letters to White House officials demanding they adhere to records preservation rules ahead of the transfer of power next year.
Congressional Democrats are sounding the alarm and are urging that over 50 federal agencies and departments, including the Executive Office of the President at the White House, and directed recipients to comply with the applicable federal law and regulations, as well as preserve records that may be subject to congressional subpoenas or investigations.
“Over the last four years, the Administration obstructed numerous congressional investigations by refusing to provide responsive information,” lawmakers wrote. “You are obligated to ensure that any information previously requested by Congress—and any other information that is required by law to be preserved—is saved and appropriately archived in a manner that is easily retrievable.”
The Trump administration has stretched the limits of recordkeeping. The president has a personal habit of tearing up documents that cross his desk which led to staffers taping them back up to comply with the Presidential Records Act.
In other instances, top officials have used personal email accounts or encrypted messaging apps to conduct government business, complicating the archival effort and potentially impeding the incoming administration’s ability to take the helm of the vast federal apparatus.
The Trump White House has also stymied Democrats on a number of oversight fronts since they took the House in 2018, particularly during the impeachment process when the White House rebuffed a series of congressional requests for testimony and documents.
I strongly suspect that the moment the Biden team is given access to agencies for transition, they will find gross mismanagement and even criminality. As such, I believe Donald Trump and his team are contesting the election to buy time to clean house as best as they can and avoid indictment.