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‘It’s sad and pathetic’: Trump insiders say the president’s plans with Sidney Powell leave them baffled and scared

Trump has apparently seriously discussed the possibility of bringing in martial law in states that didn’t vote for him. Staunch Trumpists are now backing away, with even Rudy Giuliani trying to act as a ‘voice of reason’

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Monday 21 December 2020 16:02 GMT
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The outgoing president will be more dangerous over his remaining month in office than he has ever been because he is not psychologically equipped to deal with the trauma of losing, says his niece
The outgoing president will be more dangerous over his remaining month in office than he has ever been because he is not psychologically equipped to deal with the trauma of losing, says his niece (Getty)
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A deadly virus is killing thousands of Americans each day, a record number of people are now unemployed, and Russian intelligence operatives have wormed their way into computer networks across multiple government agencies. Yet with just 30 days remaining before his successor’s swearing-in, President Donald Trump remains hunkered down in the White House, increasingly out of touch with reality in a way that is causing even those loyalists to be alarmed over what could transpire during the month left in his presidency.

With over 50 post-election lawsuits having been unceremoniously dismissed by a bevy of judges – including some of the most conservative in the country and a Supreme Court featuring three of his own appointees – and with top Republicans such as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell having congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his victory, an increasingly distraught soon-to-be-ex-president has found succour in the arms of a loose-knit collection of bizarre fringe figures.

“You’d be surprised who the ‘adults in the room’ are these days,” quipped one Trump confidante, employing a term once used to describe some of the steadier, more experienced foreign and domestic policy hands who once roamed the corridors of the Trump-era West Wing. The confidante later added that Trump has all but abandoned both the duties of the office he will hold for 30 more days and the aides who would otherwise be helping him carry them out.  

Instead, he has spent recent days ensconced in the White House residence, watching television, tweeting, and desperately dialling his phone in search of someone – anyone – who can provide him with a way to stave off the public defenestration that will come when Biden appears on the Capitol’s west front to take the oath of office.

“He’s not really interested in anything that happens anymore,” the aide said. “It’s just sad and pathetic, how he’s plotting and scheming to remain in a job that he’s more or less given up because he doesn’t want to go back to being a regular rich guy who will still be one of the most famous men on Earth.”

Conspiracy-theorist Sidney Powell has twice over the last few days been escorted into some of the most secure spaces in the White House to meet with the president
Conspiracy-theorist Sidney Powell has twice over the last few days been escorted into some of the most secure spaces in the White House to meet with the president (EPA)

Trump has routinely shed more competent advisers in favour of those who prove themselves willing to tell him what he wants to hear or push the boundaries of the executive’s legal authority to suit his whims. But administration sources say what is now transpiring goes far beyond the president’s usual willingness to seek out sycophants.

With most of the lawyers and campaign staff who’ve aided his quixotic quest to overturn his election loss having succumbed to the reality that he has, in fact, lost the election, Trump has turned to Texas attorney Sidney Powell for counsel. Though he ordered her removal from his post-election legal team last month after she accused Georgia’s governor and secretary of state of accepting bribes, Powell has twice over the last few days been escorted into some of the most secure spaces in the White House to meet with the president. The subject of discussion? Whether he should (illegally) appoint her as a roving investigator to look into the baseless claims of fraud he has heard about on various right-wing television programmes and in legal filings by his campaign’s lawyers.

Also on the menu was a Powell-endorsed proposed executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to seize swing states’ voting machines (which the department lacks the power to do) for some sort of “audit” (which is unnecessary because the machines use paper ballots). This, as well as a proposal pushed by former Trump national security adviser, convicted felon, and Powell client Michael Flynn, under which the president would declare martial law in the six swing states that made Biden the winner last month, and order the US military to conduct new elections (which he would presumably win).

According to multiple reports, one of the two meetings – an Oval Office confab on Friday – devolved into a shouting match over Powell’s desire for Trump to order DHS to confiscate voting machines. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pushed back against the plan to appoint Powell as a special counsel (which only the attorney general can do under certain circumstances) and the executive order on voting machines, as Giuliani had been advised by Trump loyalist Ken Cuccinelli (currently DHS’s second-ranking official) that the department lacks any such authority.

They were allowed to push the craziest ideas because they knew someone else would make sure it didn’t happen. And now you don’t have those people

Elizabeth Neumann, ex-Department for Homeland Security

Also in attendance was another Powell associate, former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. Byrne, who was forced to resign from his former employer after announcing that he’d been in a sexual relationship with a Russian agent, admitted his involvement in a Sunday night post to Twitter, in which he claimed that Trump “is being terribly served by his advisers”.

But those advisers are the same ones who’ve stuck with Trump through thick and thin – particularly Cipollone, whose work during Trump’s impeachment last year drew scorn from numerous legal commentators.

Elizabeth Neumann, a former DHS assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy who has become a vocal Trump critic since resigning earlier this year, said the fact that it is the most hardcore Trump loyalists who are pushing back against him is especially troubling.

“These people around him, they were playing the game for the purpose of building their brand, building their likability with the president and his base, and they could do that because there were other people who’d stand in the gap and say ‘No, we can’t do that’… They were allowed to push the craziest ideas because they knew someone else would make sure it didn’t happen,” she said. “And now you don’t have those people, and so even people like Giuliani are recognising that this is going beyond the play-acting they’ve been doing.”

The idea that Rudy Giuliani could be a voice of reason in the White House ‘should terrify us all’, says the president’s niece, Dr Mary Trump
The idea that Rudy Giuliani could be a voice of reason in the White House ‘should terrify us all’, says the president’s niece, Dr Mary Trump (AP)

Yet even as those advisers remain cold to the possibility of Trump appointing a known conspiracy theorist as a roving prosecutor looking for non-existent voter fraud or extra-legal, other Trump loyalists are working to hobble his successor.

At the Department of Defence, for example, Trump political appointees (none of whom have been Senate-confirmed) have ordered a halt to all interactions with Biden transition officials, even as the country grapples with a massive cyberattack thought to have been perpetrated by Russian intelligence services.  

Pentagon officials argued that the pause was a temporary break for the Christmas and new year’s holidays, but Biden transition chair Yohannes Abraham flatly denied such an arrangement during a press briefing on Friday.

Abraham added that there has been “isolated resistance” to the transition process from “some corners” of the Trump administration, “including from political appointees at the Department of Defence”.

One defence department official, who requested anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly, called the move “petty, asinine, and on-brand,” while Neumann said it was more than likely that the reason behind it is to make things more difficult for Biden when he takes office next month.

Donald is desperate to delegitimise the incoming administration because he’s vindictive, he’s vengeful, and he feels that he's been rejected. Now, he hates this country

Dr Mary Trump

But another person who knows the president well – his niece, Dr Mary Trump – warned that even in the absence of explicit orders to sabotage the Biden administration, loyalists throughout the executive branch will act on their own to do so because they know that is what he expects.

“Donald never says explicitly what illegal thing he’s going to do. He just hints at it so there’s never a paper trail,” she explained. “They know why they’re there; they don’t need to be told.”

Dr Trump, a clinical psychologist by training, said her uncle will be more dangerous over his remaining month in office than he has ever been because he is not psychologically equipped to deal with the trauma of losing. He fears what will happen to him once he loses the power and attention that come with the presidency, she added.

“Donald is desperate to delegitimise the incoming administration because he’s vindictive, he’s vengeful, and he feels that he's been rejected. Now, he hates this country. He doesn’t care what happens [because] he’s been repudiated and is going to find himself in a very difficult position come 20 January at 12.01pm,” she said.

As for his continued push to overturn the election, inquiries into declaring martial law, and his desire to appoint Powell as his personal inquisitor, Dr Trump said the idea that Giuliani could be a voice of reason in the White House “should terrify us all”, and warned that the danger to the country will increase each day until Biden takes office.

“It is absolutely incredible, but we can never, ever underestimate what he's capable of doing,” she said. 

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