(CNN) — The head of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, is the only obstacle between President-elect Joe Biden and the formal start of the transition. The lawyer struggles with the weight of a presidential election falling on her men and feels like she’s been put in a dead end, according to people who have spoken with her recently.
Murphy never thought she would find herself in this situation, those people said. But as the government official in charge of approving the election result, President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the result threw Murphy into the middle of a political storm.
Murphy, who faces mounting pressure from both sides and even death threats, is working – according to sources – to interpret the agency’s vague guidelines and follow what she sees as a precedent for waiting to approve the election result. in a process known as “verification” that would allow the official presidential transition to begin.
Murphy’s stagnant approval is one of the most confusing decisions made since the election, as it is clear that Biden won and Trump’s lawsuits will not change the outcome. Biden’s team warned that the delay has real-world consequences for national security. Also for your response to the covid-19 pandemic.
Sources who spoke to CNN could not say whether Murphy has reached out to the White House to discuss the matter.
“He absolutely feels that he is in a difficult place. You are afraid on multiple levels. It’s a terrible situation, “a friend and former colleague of Murphy told CNN. “Emily is a consummate professional, a deeply moral person, but also a very scrupulous attorney in a very difficult position with unclear law and precedent behind her position,” she explained.
“She is doing what she believes to be her honest duty as someone who has sworn true allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America and the laws that govern her position,” added the friend.
Murphy declined an interview request for this story, and the General Services Administration (GSA) declined to comment.
Emily Murphy, a technocrat with a long career
Sources close to Murphy describe her as a technocrat and policy expert, with a long career as a congressional aide and in the GSA. It’s unclear what specific actions Murphy expects before granting verification. Sources told CNN that she is basing her decision on what she sees as the precedent set by the 2000 election. In that case there was no clear winner for more than a month.
Two sources close to the transition told CNN that Trump’s disastrous day in court last Friday had generated breakthroughs. However, days later there was still no verification letter from Murphy.
The imminent results of Georgia’s recount, which are expected to be certified Friday without a drastic change in results, along with other states beginning to certify the election, are also factors in Murphy’s decision, these sources said. But Murphy has not said publicly what the final line will be.
“My experiences with Emily have led me to believe that she is an ethical and moral person, but I totally disagree with her current decision not to verify the election,” said a former administration official and Murphy’s colleague who had spoken with her recently. . “I think you are making absolutely the wrong decision. President-elect Biden clearly won. And there really is no doubt about it (…). It is wrong to delay, even a minute more, the signing of the verification, “he said.
It has been more than a week since CNN and other news outlets announced Biden’s victory. And Trump campaign lawsuits that dispute the outcome have been repeatedly thrown out in court, while failing to challenge a sufficient number of votes to change the outcome.
But Trump has continued to make repeated false claims that he did not lose the election. And Murphy’s decision not to verify the result has prevented Biden and his team from accessing contacts with federal agencies and funding for the new administration’s hiring. It has also prevented them from accessing classified intelligence reports.
Biden’s team also has no access to the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine distribution efforts. “More people can die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said Monday.. There is also concern among national security experts that a delayed transition could leave the government vulnerable to security risks, both domestic and foreign.
Emily Murphy spoke to her predecessor
Democrats are furious at Murphy for contributing to Trump’s false fantasies that his election was stolen. At the same time, Republicans pressure her to stick with it and not sign the verification.
Murphy’s former colleagues told CNN that, despite being a politically appointee, she was not an avid Trump supporter or loyalist.
“She is going to be very thoughtful about the letter of the law, the guidelines, any guidance, explicit guidance, any precedent, as well as the general intent. It comes from the world of contracts, where that is the whole nature of work, ”said the friend and former colleague.
In a sign that she sensed the post-election troubles that awaited her, Murphy spoke by phone before November 3 with one of her predecessors, David Barram, who was in charge of the GSA during the 2000 election, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Of the call. Barram, Bill Clinton’s political appointee, ultimately determined that Bush was the winner of the 2000 election after the Supreme Court ended Florida’s recount. The call was prepared by mutual collaborators as a way for Barram to discuss his experience and the difficult position he had been in, sources said.
Associated Press was the First to report on the call.
While the GSA has compared the current situation to the confrontation between George Bush and Al Gore, Barram said in a podcast last week that this election was “drastically different” than what happened in 2000. “It was about Florida. One state, and something like 537 votes. Everyone knew that once Florida was settled, the winner would be clear, “said Barram.
From the Capitol to the General Services Administration
Murphy has been in charge of the GSA since 2017, making her one of Trump’s longest-serving appointees. Prior to her appointment, she served as a senior advisor to her predecessor at the GSA, as an assistant to the House Armed Services and Small Business committees, as an attorney in private practice, and as the GSA’s director of acquisitions during the George W. Bush Government.
Several sources described Murphy as a political person, but not a Trump token or a “party puppet.”.
Originally from Missouri, Murphy was introduced at her confirmation hearing by former Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who praised her long government career. It was confirmed in the Senate by voice vote.
Suzette Kent, Trump’s 2018 federal chief information officer, co-chaired a governance meeting with Murphy, describing her as a professional who “demonstrated a high degree of integrity.” He also called her “extremely competent.”
Since the election result was announced, Democrats on Capitol Hill have demanded that Murphy explain why he has not secured verification. Last week they sent him a letter that he has not yet responded to. However, Biden’s team argues to Congressional Democrats that for now it makes more strategic sense to let public pressure build on how Trump is preventing the transition, rather than trying to cite Murphy.
Sen. James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said last week that he would “step in” last Friday if Biden still did not receive the intelligence reports that are supposed to be delivered to the president-elect. That deadline came and went. On Tuesday, Lankford said that he and his staff they contacted the GSA and defended Murphy’s decision not to grant verification.
“I intervened, spoke to them on Friday,” Lankford said, though he did not say whether he had spoken to Murphy.
“There’s no way they can verify,” Lankford added. “The GSA is not the voters,” he remarked.
Controversy over the FBI headquarters
This is not Murphy’s first controversy as a Trump appointee. In 2018, it was part of a controversial decision that scrapped plans to build a new FBI headquarters on the outskirts of Washington DC. Instead, they wanted to rebuild in the same location, across the street from the Trump International Hotel. He faced questions at a 2018 congressional hearing about whether the White House was involved in the decision. Critics accused Trump of having swayed to prevent a competitor from gaining space in front of his hotel.
Murphy had spoken to Trump about the project in the Oval Office, which he did not reveal to lawmakers. The GSA inspector general said his testimony “left the misleading impression that he had no conversations with the president or high-ranking White House officials in the process of making the decision on the project.” Murphy said the inspector general’s conclusion was “unfounded and unfair.”
“Despite a rocky start, we developed an ongoing constructive and productive relationship,” Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the GSA, told CNN. “I am fervently hopeful that she will do the right thing here,” he said.
Alan Chvotkin, a senior executive at a Washington DC trade association who has worked with Murphy for more than 20 years, said he was a strong advocate for his appointment because of his deep understanding of how the agency operates and his commitment to understanding the nature of the problems you are facing.
She said that when Emily Murphy was faced with a decision, she consulted widely, asked others to investigate, and made sure she was aware of the scope and ramifications of a decision before making it.
“In a high political environment, many people don’t know her and they certainly don’t know the job she’s responsible for,” Chvotkin said. “If you only isolate one or two topics, it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion,” he added.
Former Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent told CNN that he has known Murphy for 25 years and that she worked for him when he chaired the House of Representatives Small Business Commission during the Clinton administration. Talent praised Murphy’s integrity and blamed the law for putting responsibility on the GSA.
“Something is wrong with the system in which the responsibility for declaring the winner of a presidential election seems to lie with the General Services Administration, it is the government’s landlord. They buy furniture, ”Talent said. “I understand the frustration of the people, but the problem is an electoral system that cannot come to an end. It’s not Emily or the GSA.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.