Having effectively exhausted his legal options—at least 86 judges, including dozens appointed by Republicans, have shut down the president’s unprecedented attempt to overturn his defeat through the courts—Donald Trump is apparently now entertaining even more anti-democratic paths to preserving his power. During a White House meeting on Friday, nearly a week after the Electoral College certified Joe Biden’s victory, Trump reportedly discussed invoking martial law to overturn his losing election result—a strategy one of the meeting’s attendees, former national security adviser and recent pardon recipient Michael Flynn, had recently proposed on cable television. Appearing on the right-wing Newsmax channel earlier in the week, Flynn encouraged the president to deploy the military to “rerun” the election, an idea Trump inquired about during the Oval Office meeting a few days later, the New York Times reports. Trump bashed the report in a tweet just after midnight on Sunday:
Trump’s discussion about using the military for an election redo was one of many absurd and alarming ideas floated—and strongly pushed back on—during Friday’s meeting, which “became raucous and involved people shouting at each other at times,” according to the Times. Among the more contentious topics was naming Sidney Powell, the Trump-aligned lawyer and conspiracy theorist, as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations, something Trump is apparently considering. Powell, who was present at the Friday meeting, has peddled unfounded voter fraud allegations, including a conspiracy theory about an international plot to rig the U.S. election through voting machines, and was disavowed by the Trump campaign weeks ago.
Most of Trump’s advisers reportedly opposed the special counsel idea, including Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who became the face of Trump’s flailing post-election legal battle. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed, which went beyond the special counsel idea” and Cipollone told Trump “there was no constitutional authority for what was being discussed,” the Times reports. At one point in the meeting, Trump apparently asked about Powell receiving security clearances to conduct her work, even as the president’s outgoing attorney general, William Barr, said the Justice Department has investigated found no evidence of election-altering fraud.
As others in the room pointed out Powell’s failure thus far to support her fraud claims with verifiable evidence, the attorney “accused other Trump advisers of being quitters,” according to the Times. Another reported idea weighed during Friday’s meeting was an executive order to seize voting machines to examine them for alleged fraud, after Giuliani separately asked the Department of Homeland Security to do so earlier in the week—apparently to no avail, according to the Times, as he was told the department does not have such authority.
Sen. Mitt Romney shot down the president’s last-ditch efforts overturn the election during an appearance Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “It’s not going to happen. That’s going nowhere,” Romney said. “I understand the president is casting about, trying to find some way to have a different result than the one that was delivered by the American people. It’s really sad in a lot of respects and embarrassing.”
Still, concern about the president’s increasingly desperate quest to remain in power has intensified among those in Trump’s circle. “People who are concerned and nervous aren’t the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe,” a senior administration official told Axios. “These are people who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history.” Journalists who have long covered Trump also attested to the heightened sense of alarm. “Sources who have gotten used to Trump’s eruptions over four years sound scared by what’s transpired in the past week when I’ve talked to them,” the Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted. Jonathan Swan of Axios observed a similar change among White House aides, noting he has “been covering Donald Trump for a while” and “can’t recall hearing more intense concern from senior officials who are actually Trump people.”
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