WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - After weeks of defiance, President Donald Trump on Monday (Nov 23) allowed officials to proceed with a transition to President-elect Joe Biden, giving his Democratic rival access to briefings and funding even as he vowed to persist with efforts to fight the election results.
Mr Trump said he no longer opposes government aid for Mr Joe Biden's transition team in his closest statement yet to finally conceding he lost the US election.
Mr Trump's tweet that the General Services Administration (GSA) should "do what needs to be done" came after the agency's head Emily Murphy said she was releasing the long-delayed assistance.
The GSA, an independent federal agency that must sign off on presidential transitions, informed Mr Biden, a Democrat, that he could formally begin the hand-over process.
GSA administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter that Mr Biden would now have access to resources that had been denied to him because of the legal challenges seeking to overturn his win.
"This is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue," said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Mr Trump's announcement came shortly after Michigan officials certified Mr Biden as the victor in their state, making Mr Trump’s legal efforts to change the election outcome even more unlikely to succeed.
Mr Trump and his advisers said he would continue to pursue legal avenues, but his tweet served as a sign that even the White House understood it was getting close to time to move on.
"Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good ... fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same," Mr Trump said in a tweet.
A Trump adviser painted the move as similar to both candidates getting briefed during the campaign, and said the president’s tweet was not a concession.
Mr Trump has spent the last three weeks since the Nov 3 election claiming without any evidence that Biden's convincing victory was the result of fraud.
Ms Murphy, who denies acting under political pressure, has refused until now to release the standard package of aid that her agency manages to Mr Biden's incoming team.
A statement by the Biden transition said meetings would begin with federal officials on Washington’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, along with discussions of national security issues.
Two Trump administration officials told Reuters the Biden agency review teams could begin interacting with Mr Trump agency officials as soon as Tuesday.
The move by the GSA means Mr Biden’s team will now have federal funds and an official office to conduct his transition over the next two months.
It also paves the way for Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris to receive regular national security briefings that Mr Trump also gets.
The decision frees up millions of dollars in financing to support the transition, as well as formally allows Mr Biden to coordinate with current government officials.
Ms Murphy, who had faced harsh criticism over her previous refusal to act, said in her letter to Mr Biden, obtained by various US news outlets, that "contrary to media reports and insinuations, my decision was not made out of fear or favouritism".
The step by her GSA is usually a routine one following a US presidential election, but Mr Trump’s continuing efforts to overturn the results of the vote and refusal to concede have complicated the process.
Representative Don Beyer, who led the Obama administration’s transition at the Commerce Department in 2008, said Ms Murphy’s delay was "costly and unnecessary" and warned that Mr Trump could still do great harm in his remaining time in office.
Top Democrats in the House and Senate on Monday warned that an executive order signed by Mr Trump in October could result in mass firings of federal employees in the final weeks of his presidency and allow the Republican president to install loyalists in the federal bureaucracy.