Patel, a former aide to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, currently serves as chief of staff to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and while it is not unusual for someone in that job to take a leading role in the transition effort, two defense officials told CNN that Patel will likely come under scrutiny from many inside the Pentagon who are watching to see how cooperative he may be with the Biden team.
“The chief of staff reached out to the agency review team. … His goal is to be the touch point for the secretary and ensure the secretary has insight into what’s going on and to make sure that the transition is successful,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday afternoon where he confirmed Patel’s transition role.
Patel was elevated to his current job as part of the recent purge of top Pentagon officials, which included President Donald Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and his reputation as an ardent Trump loyalist who will continue to do whatever he can to further the President’s political agenda in the time remaining in office.
The House impeachment inquiry uncovered evidence connecting Patel, who was then working as an aide to Nunes, to the diplomatic back channel led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and the efforts to spread conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and coerce Ukraine into announcing an investigation of the former vice president.
He has also worked to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Patel, who most recently served as senior director for counterterrorism at the White House National Security Council, was elevated to serve as Miller’s chief of staff following Esper’s ouster earlier this month and has a “very close” working relationship with the newly installed acting defense secretary, an administration official previously told CNN.
But the move was part of a flurry of personnel changes at the Pentagon that have fueled concerns Trump is dislodging officials across the government and burrowing loyalists into agencies in a way that could make them difficult for Biden to remove next year.
Since coming to the Pentagon, Patel has overseen controversial decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Knowledgeable sources told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this month that the White House-directed purge at the Defense Department may have been motivated by the fact that Esper and his team were pushing back on a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan, which would be carried out before the required conditions on the ground were met.
A few hours after the Government Services Administration formally acknowledged Biden’s election win on Monday the Pentagon said it had been contacted by the Biden-Harris team and “will begin immediately implementing our plan to provide support.”
“DoD is prepared to provide post-election services and support in a professional, orderly, and efficient manner that is befitting of the public’s expectation of the Department and our commitment to national security,” Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough said in a statement.
Thomas Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services is providing the major DoD support to the transition while Patel heads the overall effort another defense official said.
Later on Tuesday Muir confirmed office space for the Biden team had been allocated at the Pentagon and that a meeting took place between the two teams.
“We had our first discussions, exchanged electronic emails. First meeting today was by video teleconference, virtual. Good productive meetings, we kind of laid out sort of the ground rules. I can tell you that the team is willing and certainly able to abide by the Covid restrictions here in the Pentagon.”
A senior defense official said that prior to Patel overseeing the transition process, his predecessor, Esper’s chief of staff Jen Stewart, was in charge of the effort.