GSA Says Biden Apparent Winner, Starting Formal Transition

Law360 (November 23, 2020, 10:46 PM EST) -- The General Services Administration chief on Monday formally recognized Joe Biden as the apparent president-elect, granting his transition team access to financial and property resources to begin taking control of the executive branch.

The decision came after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized GSA administrator and Trump appointee Emily W. Murphy's delay in allowing the transfer of power to begin, with 41 Senate Democrats on Friday urging her to release government resources to the president-elect.

Known as ascertainment, the GSA step is normally an uncontentious formality in a White House transition, with the government's landlord signing off on the transfer of buildings, offices and purse strings, usually within days of the election. An exception was 2000, when President Bill Clinton's GSA held off ascertaining a winner during the Florida recount that was eventually resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore.

In her letter of ascertainment to Biden on Monday, Murphy said she was "never directly or indirectly pressured by any executive branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA" — in relation to the substance or timing of her decision. She said she did not receive any instructions to delay her decision.

Murphy indirectly referred to various legal challenges to Biden's election win, which have almost all been rejected and no court has found a single instance of election fraud. She said she made her decision "because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results."

But she said she did not want to rush ahead of the constitutional process of counting votes, saying the GSA does not pick or certify the winner. Instead, she said, the GSA's job is simply to make resources and services available in connection with a presidential transition.

"The actual winner of the presidential election will be determined by the electoral process detailed in the Constitution," Murphy wrote.

Murphy authorized that $7.3 million be made available to Biden's transition team.

Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of Biden's transition team, said in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday evening that the GSA's decision is a "definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process."

"In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies," Abraham said.

President Donald Trump, who has spent the past few weeks falsely claiming he won the election, took to Twitter on Monday to thank Murphy for her work, asserting she has been "harassed, threatened and abused." But even though he appeared to accept Murphy's decision, he indicated he would continue legal fights challenging Biden's win.

"Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail," Trump said.

--Additional reporting by Christopher Cole. Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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