Facing mounting pressure from both sides, and even death threats, the sources say Murphy is working to interpret vague agency guidelines and follow what she sees as precedent to wait to sign off on the election result, a process known as “ascertainment” that would allow the official presidential transition to begin.
Still, Murphy’s stalled sign-off is one of the more confounding decisions made since the election, since it’s clear Biden won and Trump’s legal challenges won’t change the outcome. Biden’s team has warned the delay has real-world consequences to national security and their Covid-19 response.
Sources who spoke to CNN could not say whether Murphy has been in touch with the White House on the issue.
“She absolutely feels like she’s in a hard place. She’s afraid on multiple levels. It’s a terrible situation,” one friend and former colleague of Murphy’s told CNN. “Emily is a consummate professional, a deeply moral person, but also a very scrupulous attorney who is in a very difficult position with an unclear law and precedence that is behind her stance.
“She’s doing what she believes is 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,” the friend added.
Murphy declined an interview request for this story, and GSA declined to comment.
A technocrat with a lengthy career
Sources close to Murphy describe her as a technocrat and policy wonk, with a lengthy career as a congressional aide and at GSA. It’s not clear what specific actions Murphy is waiting on before granting ascertainment. Sources tell CNN she is basing her decision on what she sees as the precedent set by the 2000 election, where there was not a 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 moved the dial forward, but days later there was still no ascertainment letter from Murphy.
The impending results from Georgia’s recount, which are expected to be certified Friday with no dramatic shift 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 publicly said what the definitive line will be.
“My experiences with Emily have led me to believe she is an ethical and moral person, but I strongly disagree with her current decision not to ascertain the election,” said a former administration official and colleague of Murphy’s who had spoken to her in recent days. “I think she’s absolutely making the wrong decision. President-elect Biden clearly won. And there really is no question about that… It is wrong to delay, even by another minute, the signing of the ascertainment.”
It’s been more than a week since CNN and other news organizations called the presidential election for Biden, and the Trump campaign’s lawsuits challenging the result have been repeatedly tossed out of court, while failing to challenge enough votes that would change the result.
But Trump has continued to make repeated false claims that he did not lose the election, and Murphy’s decision not to ascertain the result has locked Biden and his team out of access to contacts with the federal agencies, funding to help ramp up government hiring for the new administration and access to classified intelligence briefings.
The Biden team also does not have access to the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine distribution efforts. “More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said Monday. There are also concerns among national security experts that a delayed transition could leave the government vulnerable to security risks, both domestic and abroad.
Speaking to her predecessor
Democrats are furious with Murphy for playing into Trump’s false…