Republicans have opened up about the chaotic period leading up to Donald Trump’s not-quite concession – and his legal team’s “insane” theories.
Republicans have opened up about the internal chaos in three weeks between Donald Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden and his not-quite concession, with one mocking his legal team’s “insane” conspiracy theories.
The Washington Post, citing interviews with 32 anonymous “senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the President, as well as other key figures in his legal fight”, characterised the period as “20 days of fantasy and failure”.
“Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like ‘Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won,’” the newspaper writes.
The paper quotes the same adviser describing Mr Trump’s aides as “clear-eyed” about the election loss to Mr Biden but nevertheless “happy to scratch his itch” by encouraging him to keep fighting. “If he thinks he won, it’s like, ‘Shh … we won’t tell him,’” the adviser allegedly told The Washington Post.
The story recounts how Mr Trump effectively handed control of his campaign and legal apparatus – which had professional lawyers and an “army of attorneys” standing ready to file “legitimate court challenges” – to “loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear”.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his protege Jenna Ellis staged what a senior administration official described as “a hostile takeover” of what remained of the campaign, according to the newspaper.
On Friday, November 13, Mr Trump called his personal lawyer from the Oval Office while other advisers were present, including Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, director of presidential personnel Johnny McEntee and deputy campaign manager Justin Clark.
On speakerphone, Mr Giuliani reportedly told Mr Trump he could win and that his other advisers were lying to him. Mr Clark swore at Giuliani and said he was feeding the President bad information.
The next day Ms Ellis reportedly “startled” aides by entering the campaign’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia and instructing staffers that they must listen to her and Mr Giuliani.
“They came in one day and were like, ‘We have the President’s direct order. Don’t take an order if it doesn’t come from us,’” a senior administration official told The Washington Post.
Things culminated with the new legal team’s bizarre press conference on November 19, attended by Mr Giuliani, Ms Ellis, former Assistant US Attorney Sidney Powell and husband-and-wife team Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing.
Mr Giuliani laid out sweeping allegations of voter fraud by “crooks” in Democrat-run cities where Mr Trump saw his leads evaporate after election day – before handing over to Ms Powell, who went even further by doubling down on conspiracy theories surrounding voting machine company Dominion.
“The Dominion Voting Systems, the Smartmatic software and the software that goes in other computerised voting systems here as well, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost another election,” Ms Powell said.
A Republican official facetiously told The Washington Post, “I, like everyone else, have yet to see any evidence of it, but it’s a thriller – you’ve got Chavez, seven years after his death, orchestrating this international conspiracy that politicians in both parties are funding. It’s an insane story.”
With most headlines focusing on the hair dye running down Mr Giuliani’s sweat-drenched face, Mr Trump was reportedly unhappy with the press conference and felt the presentation made him “look like a joke”, according to an anonymous campaign official said to have discussed it with him.
He was even more upset with Ms Powell after watching a segment by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who said he had invited her to come on his show to discuss her allegations but that she had refused to provide any evidence.
Three days later she was dumped from the legal team, which announced in a terse Sunday night statement that she was “practising law on her own” and was also “not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity”.
The following day Mr Trump formally authorised the General Services Administration to initiate the transition process for Mr Biden, ending a weeks-long stand-off, amid growing pressure from Republicans and former national security officials.
The move would allow the Biden-Harris team to access public funding and receive security briefings. According to The Washington Post, Mr Trump was reluctant, feeling that authorising the transition would be in effect conceding the election.
It took “multiple days” for White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Mr Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, one of Mr Trump’s personal lawyers, to explain to the President that the transition had nothing to do with conceding and that his legal challenges could continue.
Announcing the decision in a tweet, Mr Trump insisted that “our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail”, but said “in the best interests of our country” he was recommending the GSA “do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols”.
Since then Mr Trump has continued to rail against the “rigged” election, despite confirming on Thanksgiving Day that he would leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Mr Biden on December 14.
“Certainly I will,” Mr Trump replied. “Certainly I will. And you know that. But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and January 20. Massive fraud has been found. We’re like a third-world country.”
As the Trump campaign’s court losses continue to mount, his legal team continue to claim he has a path to victory, either through the Supreme Court or by convincing Republican-controlled state legislatures to override the popular vote and appoint their own pro-Trump electors.
In his first interview since November 3, Mr Trump phoned into Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday morning Fox News show, where he again refused to accept the loss – going as far as to suggest the FBI and Department of Justice may be involved in a plot to “rig” the election.
“Missing in action, can’t tell you where they are,” Mr Trump said, when asked why federal authorities were not investigating his allegations. “This is total fraud and how – the FBI and Department of Justice, I don’t know, maybe they’re involved – but how people are allowed to get away this with this stuff is unbelievable. This election was rigged. This election was a total fraud and it continues to be as they hide.”
He continued, “You would think if you’re in the FBI or Department of Justice, this is the biggest thing you could be looking at. Where are they? I’ve not seen anything. I mean, they just keep moving along, and they go on to the next President.”