Emily Murphy holds the keys to the White House. And right now she doesn't want to pass them on. The director of 'General Service Administration' refuses to sign a letter that would recognize Joe Biden's victory and trigger the transfer of powers process.
Unknown to the general public a few days ago, she is now presented as "the most powerful woman in Washington - temporarily" by the Politico site. Being the director of the austere "General Service Administration" (GSA) is not predestined to be in the limelight. Yet it is a crucial position for the transition between two administrations ... and it was precisely Donald Trump who appointed her to this post in 2017.
In fact, the GSA manages all of the federal real estate stock, as well as the supplies and logistics necessary for the operation of the US administration. It is therefore within its prerogatives to ensure the concrete transition between leavers and entrants. This is a long-term mission, on which a dedicated General Services team has been working for more than two years, well in advance of the electoral process itself.
The transition, which Joe Biden’s teams are eager to work on, requires access to all levels of government, ministries, offices, regardless of the level of confidentiality required. It also involves setting up a shadow organization chart for incoming teams, with the creation of official email lines and addresses. Finally, this process is funded by the GSA to the tune of $ 6 million, a sum also blocked by the refusal of its director.
GSA not picking presidential winner- Pamela Pennington, General Service Administration spokesperson
But Emily Murphy believes that she cannot sign the letter of "ascertainment", that is to say the certification of the victory of Joe Biden, which would trigger the transition. Pamela Pennington, spokesperson for the GSA said that "the administrator of the GSA does not choose the winner of the presidential election."
The precedents were almost all quickly settled by the appeal of the loser to the winner, which was de facto recognition of the result. However, this is precisely what Donald Trump refuses to do, as we will understand: recognize his defeat.
Remembering the 2000 election
Emily Murphy therefore had the choice of relying on election results, like almost all of the American media, to proclaim Joe Biden the winner when Pennsylvania found itself beyond Donald Trump's reach. Or to side with the tenant of the White House who questions the validity of the ballot.
And she does nothing else, when she invokes the ballot between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the only precedent where the transition was postponed. Its spokesperson insists: "The GSA and its administrator will continue to submit to whatever the law requires, given the precedent set by the Clinton administration in 2000".
At the time, Al Gore had indeed called George W. Bush to acknowledge his defeat ... before retracting, when it appeared that there were less than 500 votes out in the decisive state of Florida. This year the gaps are in the tens of thousands of votes in key states, and the Republican team has yet to produce evidence characterizing massive and / or organized fraud.
In 2000, a certain tension had remained palpable during the transfer of powers, as the victory of George W. Bush was perceived as usurped. The last symbolic scratch from the departing Clinton teams, the letter "W" - emblematic of the new president - had been removed from a number of computer keyboards. Which seems good schoolboy in view of the present situation.
A Trump loyalist?
For scholars of the American political microcosm, Emily Murphy is not, however, completely unknown. She had already had the opportunity to show her loyalty to Donald Trump, who appointed her to his post, during a parliamentary inquiry into the relocation of the FBI premises.
In 2018, the Democratic camp was intrigued by President Trump's abandonment of this project, after it had been in the works for a decade. Indeed, the large complex of buildings, in the heart of Washington, could have been transformed into a hotel, and thus create a direct competitor to that, very close, of a certain… Donald Trump, magnate of real estate.
Emily Murphy, who manages the building stock to which the FBI headquarters in Washington falls, had been heard by a parliamentary committee, and had ensured the independence of its decision. The possible conflict of interest has therefore never been proven. On the other hand, a subsequent investigation amply showed that the lady had lied: repeated contacts did take place with the White House, where a meeting even decided to abandon the move.
Presidential transition suspended
If Emily Murphy now reaches her quarter of an hour of (world) celebrity, it is not however the "letter of certification", which she refuses to write, which establishes who is the next President of the States- United. In the last resort, the vote of the Grand electors, on December 14, will decide it definitively.
On the other hand, his inaction deprives Biden's teams of valuable access, which will be so much time wasted in the effective rise to power. The implementation of a strategy, for example against the coronavirus epidemic, is therefore currently being done blindly. According to some sources, Donald Trump would however have authorized certain meetings between the teams, as long as they remain secret.
Ms Murphy's position seems to illustrate the hold the president - who is therefore hesitant to call "outgoing" - retains over his administration. If the barons of the Republican Party followed suit by not recognizing the victory of Joe Biden, we can observe that the wait-and-see attitude predominates for less exposed but more fragile positions. For example, the HRD of the White House would have threatened with dismissal all those who would be caught looking for a new employer ...
As former Hillary Clinton aide-de-camp Leslie Dach notes: "I think the message Trump sends to everyone in the administration very clear is that they must continue to make his wishes come true." .
The current fear in Washington is that Donald Trump will use the remaining two months to force sweeping decisions. This period when the incumbent still has all the powers, without being a candidate for anything, has sometimes made it possible to take unpopular or risky decisions. But in the case of Donald Trump, the range of possibilities is as always difficult to imagine.