Trump tells associate he’s trying to ‘get back at Dems’ for questioning legitimacy of his own election

November 23, 2020

President Donald Trump has admitted to a confidant that he knows he lost the election, but that he delaying the transition process—and is aggressively trying to sow doubt about the election results— in order to get back at Democrats for questioning the legitimacy of his own election in 2016, CNN reported on November 19..

The President’s refusal to concede, as CNN has previously said, stems in part from his perceived grievance that Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama undermined his own presidency by saying Russia interfered in the 2016 election and could have impacted the outcome, people around him have said.

Trump continues to hold a grudge against those who he claims undercut his election by pointing to Russian interference efforts, and he has suggested it is fair game not to recognize Joe Biden as the President-elect, even though Clinton conceded on election night in 2016 and the Trump transition was able to begin immediately.

Trump is also continuing to process the emotional scars of losing to a candidate he repeatedly said during the campaign was an unworthy opponent. He again made no public appearances on Thursday, skipping the first coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in more than six months.

Trump has heard from a multitude of friends and business associates who have been urging him to at least let the transition begin, even if he doesn’t want to concede, another source who is also familiar with the President’s thinking told CNN. His answer: No. You’re wrong. “Absolutely wrong,” according to one source.

“The most important thing we need to keep in mind is that Donald is in a unique position for him,” said Mary Trump, the President’s niece who wrote a damning account of his family life. “He’s never in his life been in a situation that he can’t get out of either through using somebody else’s money, using connections, using power. And not only is he in a unique position, he’s in a position of being a loser, which in my family, certainly, as far as my grandfather was concerned, was the worst possible thing you could be.”

The President, this source said, “doesn’t see” how bad the aftermath of all of this could be for the country, and for democracy itself. As usual, he’s focused on himself—not COVID-19,  or the transition.

Research contact: @CNN

Biden builds ‘war room operation’ for Senate confirmation battles

November 20, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden hasn’t nominated anyone for his Cabinet yet, but he’s assembling the team to get his future picks confirmed, Politico reports exclusively.

With Republicans favored to retain their majority in the Senate next year, Biden’s Cabinet is poised to become the incoming administration’s first big political battle. The confirmation votes will be an early test of the president-elect’s ability to maneuver in the Senate and work with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will maintain control of the chamber as long as Republicans win one of two Senate run-offs in Georgia.

To navigate those fights, Biden has tapped:

Biden also has dispatched his campaign’s rapid response director, Andrew Bates, for a leadership role respectively, on Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaigns, respectively.

Jorge Neri, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, also will be the deputy outreach director on confirmations. The “war room” operation will expand over the next week with the addition of Biden campaign staff and volunteers from Capitol Hill, members of the transition team told Politico.

They will work with Stephanie Valencia, who is overseeing Biden transition outreach, plus Louisa Terrell, who is managing the transition’s congressional affairs—but the nominations team will have their own communications, outreach and legislative personnel to get Biden’s nominees over the finish line.

The new team is also looking to shake up some of the conventions of the Cabinet nomination process, including the code of silence that has traditionally surrounded nominees. Instead, transition staff intend to introduce Biden’s Cabinet picks to the American people before their Senate hearings, which could include media blitzes to build up public support. There’s a risk, however, that the increased exposure could lead to embarrassing gaffes or missteps by nominees.

In less polarized times, senators were more willing to cross party lines and confirm the president’s Cabinet choices. There is more uncertainty now. During the Trump administration, some Democrats with presidential ambitions saw an advantage in voting against as many of Trump’s nominees as possible: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) later bragged on the campaign trail that she voted against more of Trump’s nominees than any other Senate Democrat. A similar dynamic could play out in 2021, given the number of Senate Republicans eyeing a 2024 presidential run.

Biden, however, is intent on trying to restore some of the Senate’s erstwhile comity. The transition told Politico hat they “are operating under the belief that the Senate will be under substantial pressure from the public and voters across the country—as well as from their allies in the business community and throughout Washington—to take action on the economy and public health crises, to confirm nominees and rebuild federal agencies with competent public servants.”

Research contact: @politico

Trump fires Christopher Krebs, CISA director who disputed election fraud claims

November 19, 2020

President Donald Trump fired his administration’s most senior cybersecurity official—responsible for securing the presidential election—on Tuesday night, November 17, in the latest of a recent string of ousters via Tweet.

According to a report by The New York Times, in recent days, Christopher Krebs—director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security since November 2018—had systematically disputed Trump’s false declarations that the presidency was stolen from him through fraudulent ballots and software glitches that changed millions of votes.

Indeed, the news outlet said, the president “seemed set off by a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security late last week, the product of a broad committee overseeing the elections, that declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.”

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate,” Trump wrote a little after 7 p.m. on his Twitter feed, “in that there were massive improprieties and fraud — including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, ‘glitches’ in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more.” He said Krebs “has been terminated” as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a post to which. Trump himself had appointed him.

Krebs, 43, a former Microsoft executive, has been hailed in recent days for his two years spent preparing the states for the challenges of the vote, hardening systems against Russian interference and setting up a “rumor control” website to guard against disinformation. The foreign interference so many feared never materialized; instead, the disinformation ultimately came from the White House.

The firing stirred an immediate backlash in the national security community and on Capitol Hill.

“Of all the things this president has done, this is the worst,” said Senator Angus King, Independent of Maine, who led a commission on improving cyberdefenses. “To strike at the heart of the democratic system is beyond anything we have seen from any politician.”

He said Krebs was one of the most competent people he had met in the government. “In this administration, the surest way to get fired is to do your job,” King said.

Senator Richard M. Burr (R-North Carolina) issued a statement calling Krebs “a dedicated public servant who has done a remarkable job during a challenging time.”

“I’m grateful for all Chris has done,” Burr said.

Only two weeks ago, the Times notes, on Election Day, Krebs’s boss, Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, had praised Krebs’s work, including the “rumor control” effort. But behind-the-scenes efforts by some administration officials to keep Trump from firing Krebs apparently failed.

Research contact: @nytimes

Georgia elections official says Lindsey Graham pressured him to toss out legal ballots

November 18, 2020

Georgia’s top elections official said on November 16 that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)—who has served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee since 2019—pressured him during a November 13 phone call to toss out legally mailed ballots, as the recount of the presidential election continues in that state.

Indeed, Politico reports, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that he has heard from a number of Republicans, who are seeking to sway election results in President Donald Trump’s favor.

Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday evening, Raffensperger said that Graham asked whether he could check signatures on mail-in ballots during Georgia’s recount and use a high frequency of mismatches to justify throwing away mail-in ballots in certain counties.

Raffensperger said he took Graham’s comments as “an implication of look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out.”

When contacted by Politico, Graham denied pressuring Raffensperger to throw away legal ballots,saying that he had a “very pleasant” conversation about the state’s signature verification process.

The Washington Post first reported the conversation, which reportedly took place last Friday—on the same day a Georgia lawyer sympathetic to Trump filed a lawsuit to prevent the state from certifying the election until all signatures could be verified. When presented with Graham’s denial on CNN, Raffensperger pointed out that the lawsuit sought to use a tactic similar to the one Graham proposed to stop the inclusion of absentee ballots in the state.

Georgia wound up being one of the key battlegrounds of the 2020 presidential election, with a razor-thin margin that eventually tipped in Democrat Joe Biden’s favor. But Trump has refused to concede and has gone after election officials in critical states — including Georgia — with conspiracy theories that the race was stolen from him.

During his CNN interview, Raffensperger balked at the idea of tossing legally cast ballots, and rejected the notion that election workers were not thoroughly verifying votes.

“We feel confident the election officials did their job,” Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger also said he was surprised by the vitriol from his fellow Republicans toward his performance verifying the election. His wife has received menacing messages on her cellphone relating to the election, he told Blitzer. Raffensperger and his wife have been isolating after she was diagnosed with coronavirus.

“You always think, I’m on this side of the aisle, obviously, and you always think your side wears the white hats,” Raffensperger said. “But people are really upset about this.”

He added: “I’m going to probably be disappointed because I was rooting for the Republicans to win,

Research contact: @politico

Supreme Court declines to take up Pennsylvania absentee ballot case

November 17, 2020

Even with “friends” on the high court such as Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump learned on November 16 that he would not be able to block all absentee ballots that arrived in Pennsylvania after Election Day.

Indeed, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case challenging Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot receipt deadline, a few days after Republican efforts were dealt a blow in a lower court regarding late-arriving ballots, US News &World Report says.

Republicans had asked the high court to block all absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. The justices previously upheld a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling for ballots to count that arrived up to three days after the election as long as they were postmarked by November 3.

Trump’s campaign and Republicans have waged scores of legal battles in Pennsylvania and around the country, although many of those cases have so far been unsuccessful in lower courts. Last Friday, November 13, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a GOP effort to block more than 9,000 late-arriving absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. The panel of three judges pointed out the “unprecedented challenges” facing the U.S. due to the coronavirus.

Most of the litigation from Trump’s team contests small batches of ballots that won’t be able to erase Biden’s lead in key battleground states where he’s ahead by thousands of votes. Biden currently has about 68,000 more votes than Trump in Pennsylvania, according to US News.

Since a winner was projected more than a week ago, Trump has refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, who flipped five states to win the White House and unseat an incumbent president.

Conservative justices had left the door open to revisiting Pennsylvania’s case post-election. Last week, Justice Samuel Alito had ordered the state to segregate the absentee ballots arriving after Election Day in the event that the late-arriving ballots are reviewed later by the high court. Prior to Election Day, Pennsylvania instructed elections officials to separate the ballots with the possibility of a court challenge.

If the high court were to eventually decide to take up the case and rule against ballots arriving after Election Day, the number of invalidated ballots would still be too small to overturn the state’s results. The president-elect also leads with 306 electoral votes compared to Trump’s 232.

Research contact: @usnews

‘Biden’ his time: While president-elect remains chill, some Senate Republicans say he must get intel briefings

November16, 202o

Senate Republicans still aren’t acknowledging that Donald Trump lost the election. But they’re getting a little closer, Politico reports.

As Trump refuses to concede and continues to wage legal battles based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, Senate Republicans are increasingly deferring to the presidential transition process— arguing it should at least begin so that President-elect Joe Biden can receive high-level intelligence briefings.

“Both of them have got to be ready to serve, if selected. We don’t know who the winner is. So keep the briefings going,” Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said. “Ultimately, the president has to make this decision.”

According to Politico, Lankford, who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee, noted that in 2000, then-President Bill Clinton allowed George W. Bush to begin receiving presidential-level intelligence briefings during the recount in Florida. Lankford added that he plans to question the government agency responsible for jump-starting the transition process if a certification is not made by Friday.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, already has said that Biden should start receiving the Presidential Daily Brief, an intelligence report curated for the president and senior White House officials. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missour), a member of the Intelligence Committee and the No. 4 Senate Republican, agreed on Thursday, November 12.

“Whether [Biden] actually gets the product itself, I think the information needs to be communicated in some way,” Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told Politico, adding. “I don’t see it as a high-risk proposition, and if in fact he does win in the end, I think they need to be able to hit the ground running.”

Other Republicans were less committal, only saying that they would have no issue if Biden began receiving the briefings, Politico said.

“All trends look like he’s going to be the president of the United States,” Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said.

“I see no problem with that,” added Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has said that the results of the election will be known in December when members of the Electoral College will meet. “I think there’s a process.”

Trump has continued to rail against the election results since Biden secured enough Electoral College votes on Saturday, November 7,  to take the White House, and Republicans this week have mostly stood by the president.

By law, the General Services Administration has the sole authority to kick-start a presidential transition by unlocking federal funds and allowing transition officials to have access to agencies and departments. But a Trump appointee who leads the GSA, Emily Murphy, has yet to certify that Biden is the president-elect, preventing his team from speaking with the government agencies it will soon run.

Without sign-off from the president, Biden also cannot receive the intelligence briefings that usually are afforded to the president-elect. The briefings hold increased importance now as the incoming president will need to be up-to-speed on multiple crises facing the nation, including skyrocketing coronavirus infections and other national-security matters.

Biden has been moving forward with the transition—talking to world leaders and lawmakers, and starting to fill staff positions. To date, he has not made the lack of high-level intel an issue.

Research contact: @politico

President-elect Joe Biden selects Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff

November 13, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff—turning to a longtime adviser and Ebola Czar under President Barack Obama as he prepares his incoming administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Biden’s decision to choose Klain as his first senior staff appointment underscores his plan to focus on COVID-19 and its economic fallout. Klain organized the task force of public health experts who Biden navigate the pandemic during the presidential campaign; and was heavily involved in crafting the incoming president’s agenda and preparations for the fall debates.

Klain, 59, served as chief of staff to then-Vice President Biden from 2009 through 2011; and previously worked as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton Administration. During the Obama Administration, he played a behind-the-scenes role in the administration’s economic-recovery efforts and in the administration’s economic-recovery efforts and the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” said President-elect Joe Biden in a statement on his transition website, adding, “His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

“It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve President-elect Biden in this role, and I am humbled by his confidence. I look forward to helping him and the Vice President-elect assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House, as we tackle their ambitious agenda for change, and seek to heal the divides in our country,” said Ron Klain.

Research contact: @WSJ

ABC’s Raddatz: ‘Is the president planning a military operation?’

November 12, 2020

Could Trump possibly be planning to go down fighting? ABC’s Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz has questioned whether outgoing President Donald Trump is “planning a military operation” amid a flurry of Pentagon resignations, The Hill reports.

“No one has seen anything like this. There is concern about what this means,” Raddatz told ABC’s David Muir on World News Tonight, asking, “Is the president planning a military operation or the use of federal troops, which [former Defense Secretary Mark] Esper opposed?”

The resignations came Tuesday, November 10,  from the Pentagon’s top policy official James Anderson, the agency’s top intelligence official Joseph Kernan; and Jen Stewart, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper before Trump fired him Monday.

Raddatz echoed sentiments expressed by President-elect Joe Biden, who has said Trump’s refusal to concede “will not help the president’s legacy.”

According to The Hill, she pointed towards other GOP members voicing support for Esper’s role as defense secretary despite Trump’s removal of him on Monday.

“Even Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) praised Esper today, and Republican John Cornyn (Texas), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said of Trump’s decision to fire Esper, ‘I don’t think it helps him and I don’t think it helps the country.'”

Esper’s firing by Trump also comes as the president has indicated to allies that FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel stand as the next officials in line for removal. However, he has yet to take action.

Experts in national security are concerned any further disruptions of administrative roles in the Department of Defense, FBI. and CIA could create a problematic and disjointed transfer of power when Biden is slated to take the Oval Office on January 20.

Max Stier, director of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that oversees the Center for Presidential Transition, told CNN the importance of a swift and stable transition of power from presidents post-inauguration, citing the George W. Bush and Al Gore White House race of 2000.

“You look back to 9/11 and the 9/11 Commission. It was very clear, looking back, that some of the delays that then-President George W. Bush experienced during the transition resulted in his delaying getting his national security team in place. And that hurt us,” Stier said, citing the 9/11 Commission report.

“What’s at stake, really, is our security, our safety. And with the world we’re in today, with economic challenges that are incredibly severe, we have a lot that we should be worried about,” said Stier.

Research contact: @thehill

Biden set to deliver Obamacare speech as Supreme Court weighs law’s future

November 11, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden—who campaigned on a promise to keep and enhance Obamacare—was set to deliver a health care-focused speech on Tuesday. November 10, even as the Supreme Court heard a case that could overturn the law.

Earlier in the day, Supreme Court justices listened to oral arguments in a case that seeks to invalidate the landmark health reform law. They will likely take initial votes at their private Friday, November 13, conference and begin the process of writing opinions, though a decision isn’t expected until the first half of 2021.

According to a report by CNN, President Donald Trump’s administration is looking to undo former President Barack Obama’s signature health law. And even with Biden set to take office on January 20, there is little he can do: Even if his administration switches sides and argues in favor of Obamacare, the case will continue because the original lawsuit was brought by a coalition of Republican attorneys general.

Protecting Obamacare was a central theme of Biden’s campaign. During the Democratic primary, he argued for expanding the law by adding a “public option” that would allow Americans to buy into a government-run health insurance plan— and, by beefing up federal premium subsidies, that would make Affordable Care Act coverage more affordable. He opposed more progressive rivals’ push to scrap private insurance entirely in favor of a single-payer, “Medicare- for-all”-type system.

Trump’s administration and the Republican-led House and Senate failed to repeal Obamacare during Trump’s first two years in Congress, CNN noted. Trump and the GOP in late 2017 did enact a tax law that gutted Obamacare’s individual mandate by setting the penalty for not having insurance at $0.

Trump’s administration later joined the Republican-led states, which argued in court that Congress’ action rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional, and since it’s a linchpin of the Affordable Care Act, the entire law should be invalidated.

Tuesday’s speech comes as Biden’s transition becomes more contentious, with Trump refusing to concede and making a series of baseless claims that seek to undermine the legitimacy of the election. His administration has not yet taken the legal step necessary to allow the transition process to begin by giving Biden’s team access to $6.3 million set aside for the process, as well as access to federal agencies.

Research contact: @CNN

Obscure Trump appointee refuses to sign documents that would officially start Biden transition

November 9, 2020

A Trump administration appointee—General Services Administrator Emily Murphy—is refusing to sign a letter enabling President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to formally begin its work this week, in another sign the incumbent president has not acknowledged Biden’s victory and could disrupt the transfer of power, The Washington Post reports.

Te administrator of the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency in charge of federal buildings, has a little-known role when a new president is elected: to sign paperwork—officially turning over millions of dollars, as well as give access to government officials, office space in agencies and equipment authorized for the taxpayer-funded transition teams of the winner.

It amounts to a formal declaration by the federal government, outside of the media, of the winner of the presidential race.

But by Sunday evening, November 8—almost 36 hours after media outlets projected Biden as the winner—GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had written no such letter. And the Trump administration, in keeping with the president’s failure to concede the election, has no immediate plans to sign one.

Indeed, according to the Post, this standoff could lead to the first transition delay in modern history—except in 2000, when the Supreme Court decided a recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush in December.

“An ascertainment has not yet been made,” Pamela Pennington, a spokesperson for GSA, said in an email to The Washington Post, “and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law.”

The GSA statement left experts on federal transitions to wonder when the White House expects the handoff from one administration to the next to begin — when the president has exhausted his legal avenues to fight the results, or the formal vote of the Electoral College on December 14? There are 74 days, as of Sunday, until the Biden inauguration on January 20.

“No agency head is going to get out in front of the president on transition issues right now,” said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official predicted that agency heads will be told not to talk to the Biden team.

“The transition process is fundamental to safely making sure the next team is ready to go on Day One,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which has set up a presidential transition center and shares advice with the Biden and Trump teams. “It’s critical that you have access to the agencies before you put your people in place.”

Trump has been resistant to participating in a transition—fearing a bad omen—but has allowed top aides to participate as long as the efforts do not become public, administration officials said. He is unlikely to concede he has lost or participate in traditional activities, the officials said.

Research contact: @washingtonpost