U.S. President-elect Joe Biden looks at his watch as he arrives to meet former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his candidate for Secretary of Transportation during a press conference on December 16, 2020 at Biden’s Interim Headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware , USA.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Tension erupted on Friday between President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team and Pentagon officials as incumbent Defense Secretary Christopher Miller abruptly decided on Thursday to cancel the transition team’s meetings with Pentagon officials for the remainder of the year.
In a statement Friday, Miller claimed that the Biden transition and the Department of Defense would be taking a “mutually agreed vacation break” and resuming meetings and briefings in the new year.
However, a spokesman for the Biden transition team said there never was such a mutual agreement.
“Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed vacation break,” transition spokesman Yohannes Abraham told reporters on Friday afternoon. “In fact, we think it is important that briefings and other engagements continue during this time, as there is no more time.”
The abrupt interruption of the meetings took Defense Department officials by surprise, according to Axios, who first reported the news of Miller’s decision.
A Department of Defense spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC on the conflicting reports by Miller and Biden interim officials.
But Abraham left little doubt as to how frustrated the Biden team is with senior Pentagon officials who they believe have so far refused to cooperate fully with the transition. “There have been many agencies and departments that have facilitated sharing information and meetings over the past few weeks,” said Abraham. “But there have been pockets of discontent, and DoD is one of them.”
However, Miller insisted that at no point had the Pentagon “canceled or declined” an interview with Biden interim officials. He said the department would “continue to support the agency’s necessary review team to ensure the safety of our nation and its citizens.”
The Biden team hoped the Department of Defense would reverse their decision. “Regarding when to resume meetings, meetings and requests for information, which are essentially interchangeable, it is our hope and expectation that it will happen immediately,” said Abraham.
Miller was due to meet with President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon, the only publicly announced event on Trump’s daily schedule.
Miller was named acting Secretary of Defense on November 9 after Trump abruptly dismissed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.