US government agencies begin transition to Biden as Trump considers pardons

More than 50 departments prepare to hand over in eight weeks

US president-elect Joe Biden’s team has started co-ordinating on transition with more than 50 government agencies in the eight weeks before President Donald Trump departs office.

Senior transition aide Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the Biden team has sped up communications with government agencies.

"Agency review teams made contact or met with over 50 agencies and commissions, including each of the major offices within the executive office of the president", and held more than 30 virtual briefings, Ms Psaki told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Biden's transition team arrived at the State Department building in Washington on Wednesday morning to start preparing for the transition, according to an internal memo obtained by Foreign Policy.

Co-ordinating the transition from the State Department side will be ambassador Daniel Smith and from the Biden team will be the newly nominated ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Departing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday that the transition has begun, reversing a claim he made two weeks ago that the transition would be to a second Trump term.

“Today we began the process to see what the GSA’s [General Services Administration] decision was and will do everything that’s required by law. We’ll make this work,” Mr Pompeo told Fox News.

The GSA authorised the start of the transition to Mr Biden's administration on Monday.

Mr Biden was due to address the nation on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, which has been largely overshadowed by the Covid-19 crisis.

Starting on Monday, Mr Biden will receive daily presidential intelligence briefings.

On Wednesday, China became the latest country to congratulate Mr Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris, more than two weeks after they were projected to win.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped for healthy and stable bilateral relations after a rocky time with the Trump administration.

"Promoting the healthy and stable development of China-US relations is not only in the fundamental interests of both peoples, but also meets the common expectation of the international community," Mr Xi told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"I hope to see both sides uphold the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation, and focus on co-operation while managing and controlling disputes.”

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also congratulated Ms Harris.

India, Germany, France, Israel, Britain, Ireland, UAE, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Turkey and other countries have congratulated Mr Biden.

Russia is the only influential global player that has not yet followed.

Departing President Donald Trump has still not conceded.

But on Wednesday, the White House cancelled a trip to Pennsylvania for Mr Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to question the validity of the results that the state has already certified.

The trip was shelved after two members of Mr Giuliani’s team contracted Covid-19, but the former mayor of New York was still scheduled to hold the event.

Mr Trump could be preparing to issue pardons in his last eight weeks in office.

He has informed his aides that he plans to pardon his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, The New York Times  reported on Tuesday.

Mr Flynn pleaded guilty twice in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman and chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CNN that if Mr Trump issued the pardon, he would be "acting like an organised crime figure”, given Mr Flynn’s guilty pleas.

Mr Biden and Mr Trump received an unprecedented number of votes in 2020.

Mr Biden is now the first presidential candidate to earn more than 80 million votes, with 80,026,717, while Mr Trump holds second place with 73,890,300.

The electoral college delegates will meet on December 14 to finalise the votes, and the inauguration of the new president will be on January 20.

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