With help from Allie Bice
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
DONALD TRUMP is no longer in the White House, but his favorite cable news network, One America News Network, is still broadcasting from there — doing live shots from Pebble Beach, the North Lawn area that is considered precious real estate by the major TV networks.
OANN is not the only MAGA media outlet that stuck around the White House grounds after Trump’s departure.
But it is the only outlet that’s been called out by the intelligence community for allegedly laundering Russian disinformation during the 2020 election, making their continued presence at the White House an interesting case study for how complicated things can get at the intersection of national security and press freedom.
A report released last week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed that Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN “had purview over the activities” of the Ukrainian lawmaker ANDRIY DERKACH, who “played a prominent role” in Russia’s election interference efforts. Derkach, the report said, “has ties to” Russia’s intelligence services, and he sought to use U.S. media figures to undermine Biden during the election.
Enter OANN. While the report does not explicitly name the outlet, it does point to it, noting that Derkach helped produce a documentary “that aired on a U.S. television network in January 2020.”
People familiar with the drafting of the report say that line is a reference to OANN’s documentary “The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder,” which aired on January 25, 2020, and accused Biden and his son, HUNTER BIDEN, of corruption. (Hunter Biden’s finances are currently under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware, though it’s not clear whether that probe is related to his work for the Ukrainian gas company Burisma.)
OANN openly worked on the documentary with former New York City Mayor RUDY GIULIANI, who met with Derkach and used him as a source while doing research for the film in Kyiv in December 2019. It was not known publicly at the time, however, that the U.S. intelligence community believed that Derkach was an “active Russian agent,” and had been for over a decade. Derkach has denied this.
Given the intelligence community’s conclusion that the network collaborated with an alleged Russian agent, OANN’s presence on White House grounds raises some questions. Chief among them: Is the administration concerned about such access? And what are the implications for the network’s credentials?
The White House and OANN did not return requests for comment. But according to experts, it’s complicated.
“OANN’s coverage is part of a larger vulnerability to democracy by spreading disinformation, which in some cases has included amplifying narratives also propagated by hostile foreign actors,” said GRAHAM BROOKIE, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and a former National Security Council official under President BARACK OBAMA.
“That’s significantly different than posing a physical security threat or a counterintelligence threat based on day-to-day access to the White House compound,” Bookie added.
Banning a U.S. outlet from accessing the White House, moreover, would likely backfire on the new administration by sparking blowback from press freedom advocates—something Putin recognizes, said MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, a veteran CIA officer who served in Russia.
“Moscow clearly understood that they could take advantage of America’s historic belief in freedom of the press plus a sympathetic voice in the White House to do so,” said Polymeropoulos, referring to Trump.
And so, for the time being at least, OANN stays put, not with the same type of access they had in the Trump days—when the press office invited their reporters into the briefing room in defiance of the press corps’ Covid protocols—but with some access nonetheless.
“In the future, the U.S. must determine how to balance this incredible paradox between a free press and clear national security concerns over covert influence campaigns from hostile actors,” said Polymeropoulos.
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With First Lady JILL BIDEN in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for an Equal Pay Day event with MEGAN RAPINOE and MARGARET PURCE of the U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team. (Other team members joined virtually.) He also met with Health and Human Services Secretary XAVIER BECERRA and Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS in the State Dining Room earlier in the day.
In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for an Equal Pay Day event with Council of Economic Advisers Chair CECILIA ROUSE and the CEA’s HEATHER BOUSHEY. She also joined Biden’s meeting with Becerra and Mayorkas.
A March Madness question: Who was the first sitting president to attend a college basketball game?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
BUTTIGIEG HEADS TO THE HILL TO SELL INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN — Transportation secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG is set to testify Thursday in Congress as lawmakers and the administration prepare to unveil a large infrastructure package. SAM MINTZ breaks down what to watch for as Buttigieg hits the Hill.
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NSC STAFFERS’ CONSULTING CLIENTS REVEALED — The White House made public several more financial disclosures this afternoon, revealing the clients that several National Security Council staffers consulted for before joining the administration.
KURT CAMPBELL, the NSC’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, consulted for defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and L3 Technologies (now known as L3Harris Technologies) while he was chairman and chief executive of the Asia Group, which describes itself as “the premier strategic advisory firm to the world’s leading companies seeking to excel across Asia.”
His other clients included the insurance company Aflac; McKinsey & Company’s Singapore office; the law firm Paul, Weiss; the telecommunications firm Omnispace; General Electric; the casino giant Wynn Resorts; Warner Bros. Entertainment; Itochu Aviation; and Levi Straus.
ROBERTA JACOBSON, the NSC’s coordinator for the Southwest border and a former senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, consulted for Constellation Brands Mexico — the company behind Corona and other Mexican beers — and the socks and T-shirts company Bombas before joining the administration.
She was also paid $39,000 to serve on Uber’s safety advisory board, according to her disclosure.
And SUMONA GUHA, the NSC’s senior director for South Asia, consulted for Microsoft, Snap, the BIll & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, the wind turbine blade manufacturer TPI Composites and the German software company SAP while she was a senior vice president at Albright Stonebridge.
MEET FUDGE’S FUTURE NO. 2 — Biden tapped ADRIANNE TODMAN today as the Housing and Urban Development deputy secretary. She’s the chief executive of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and has worked on the department’s career staff in the past.
COMMERCE DEPT. HIRE: JASON RODRIGUEZ, a Biden campaign veteran and former deputy chief of staff to Rep. STEVEN HORSFORD (D-Nev.), joined the Commerce Department earlier this month as chief of staff to DON GRAVES, Biden’s deputy Commerce secretary nominee.
KAHL’S TOUGH PATH FORWARD — Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee split 13-13 today on whether to advance the nomination of COLIN KAHL, Biden’s nominee for under secretary of Defense for policy, a Senate Republican aide told CONNOR O’BRIEN.
A party-line tie was considered the best outcome for Kahl, as Republican resistance to his nomination solidified over his past partisan tweets and differences over Middle East policy. To confirm Kahl, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER will need to move to discharge his nomination, another procedural hurdle that will add time and votes before he is confirmed and may require Vice President KAMALA HARRIS to cast several tie-breaking votes.
Psaki told reporters at the briefing this afternoon that the administration “absolutely” supports Kahl and isn’t contemplating withdrawing his nomination.
MORE HISTORY MADE: The Senate voted 52-48 this afternoon to confirm RACHEL LEVINE as the Department of Health and Human Services’ assistant secretary for health, making her the highest-ranking transgender official in the country’s history, ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN reports. Sens. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine) and LISA MURKOWSKI (R-Alaska) were the only Republicans to vote to confirm her.
TOUGH ASSIGNMENT — Biden announced this afternoon that his vice president will be the White House’s new point person on immigration issues at the nation’s southern border, one of the most politically risky issues facing the White House, EUGENE DANIELS reports
Harris’ focus will be two-pronged, a senior administration official told reporters earlier in the day: working to slow the flow of “irregular migrants” by addressing “the root causes” that prompt them to leave their home countries as well as strengthening relationships with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
White House weighs extending eviction ban (The Washington Post)
“We have the largest number of vacant ambassadorships in a generation” (The Wall Street Journal)
Jeff Hauser and David Segal praise Biden’s nominees (Democracy)
HUD Secretary MARCIA FUDGE believes in the power of rock ‘n roll music so much, she created a caucus to honor the genre and educate others about it.
Fudge established the Congressional Rock and Roll Caucus in 2012, when she was an Ohio representative and her district contained the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.
“If we can talk together about how to educate people about music and have some fun in a bipartisan way, it will be a good thing,” Fudge told Cleveland.com back in 2012.
And bipartisan fun appears to have been had: During a Rock Caucus Reception in 2017, Former Minnesota Rep. COLLIN PETERSON and a band called the “2nd Amendments” performed a rendition of NEIL DIAMOND’s “Sweet Caroline.”
BILL CLINTON was the first sitting president to make it to a college basketball game. He watched the Arkansas Razorbacks defeat the Arizona Wildcats, 91-82, in 1994 and advance to the NCAA Championship game.