(CNN) — President Donald Trump has turned to a fringe group of advisers selling increasingly dubious tactics to overturn the election results, creating a dire situation that, according to several senior officials and people close to the president, has created new levels of uncertainty about how Trump will resist the end of his term.
“No one is sure where this is going,” an official said Monday. “He remains the president for another month.”
Conspiracy attorney Sidney Powell, discredited former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, aggressive business advisor Peter Navarro, and the eccentric founder of the retail website Overstock have recently found themselves in the Oval Office or on the phone advising Trump on new desperate efforts to reverse his defeat.
That is in addition to Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who has been fueling the president’s conspiracy theories for weeks and who, along with Powell, was seen again in the White House on Monday.
In the process, Trump has mostly turned away those who work within the administration, leading to growing fears of how he might lash out in his four remaining weeks in the White House, or how he may resist leaving the building on Inauguration Day.
Regardless, Trump has for the most part abandoned the day-to-day running of the government. At a cabinet meeting last week, he spent much of his time complaining about his suspicions of voter fraud, according to a person familiar with the matter, leaving some attendees stumped about the point of the meeting.
In fact, Trump has spent his days singularly focused on the election results.
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“We won this election overwhelmingly,” Trump falsely claimed during a call Monday to activist Charlie Kirk, who broadcast the conversation using a microphone so that all attendees at a conservative youth gathering in West Palm Beach, Florida, could hear.
“The problem is we need a party that is going to fight and we have some great congressmen and women who are doing it and we have others, some great fighters,” Trump continued. “But we won this overwhelmingly, they know it, and we need the backing of the Justice Department, and other people finally have to step up.”
Sources close to the president describe a particular concern among his advisers about what Powell, who just three weeks ago was unceremoniously fired from his official legal team, may convince him to do in the coming days.
Trump’s idea, which he raised in a heated meeting Friday at the White House, is for Powell to essentially be incorporated as a special counsel within the White House Attorney’s Office, a proposal the office has frowned upon.
“There are high levels of concern with anything involving Sidney Powell,” said a source close to the president. “The lawyers are very concerned.”
Trump’s annual vacation trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he will be surrounded by sycophants and devotees who encourage him to keep fighting, will likely only add strength to his voter fraud fantasies, the official said.
The trip to Florida will begin later this week, although Trump’s unpredictability has led some advisers to wonder if he will remain on schedule. If he does go, officials say he is likely to attend meetings, in person and by phone, that his official advisers are not aware of.
“It’s scary,” said another administration official, adding that Trump seems “obsessed” with remote scenarios to overturn election results that are seemingly untenable, both feasible and politically.
One of them includes an effort led by Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College when Congress meets to formally ratify it on January 6. Trump met with Brooks and other conservative House lawmakers at the White House on Monday for a discussion focused on the president’s unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from him, participants said.
Lawmakers emerged confident that there was a contingent of House and Senate Republicans who would join the effort and spark a marathon plenary debate on Jan.6 that would spread the next day.
“I think we have several senators and the question is not if there are, but how many,” Brooks said, something that would challenge the wishes of Republican Senate leaders, who are eager to move on and are urging senators not to participate, as that doing so could force them to cast a politically toxic vote against Trump.
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In his moments of deepest denial, Trump has told some advisers that he will refuse to leave the White House on Inauguration Day, only to be pulled off that ledge.
The possibility has alarmed some advisers, although few believe Trump will actually deliver. It is not clear how such an episode could play out, and federal law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to discuss the possibility.
Heated meeting in the Oval Office
After news broke of a heated meeting in the Oval Office on Friday that pitted Powell and Flynn against White House officials, including White House Secretary Mark Meadows and White House attorney Pat Cipollone, Powell was seen leaving the executive mansion again on Sunday.
She was also seen at the White House on Monday, although it was unclear who she planned to meet with. She has been promoting a decree allowing the federal government to seize voting machines to inspect them for fraud, a proposal that administration officials, including Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, have warned is out of the question. his authority.
Powell attended Friday’s meeting along with Flynn, his client whom Trump pardoned last month after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn had suggested in a television interview last week that Trump could use the military to repeat elections in certain states, an idea that came up again during Friday’s meeting.
They were joined by Patrick Byrne, the founder of Overstock.com, who later tweeted that he was disappointed in how Trump is being served by his White House team.
“President Trump is being terribly served by his advisers. They want you to lose and they are lying to you. He is surrounded by mendacious mediocrities, ”Byrne wrote. And then he added: “For the first time in my life, I feel sorry for Donald Trump. He stands waist-deep in snakes. Trust only Rudy and Sidney.
Byrne, who resigned from Overstock in 2019 after his “deep state” comments triggered a sharp drop in the company’s stock price, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. He previously admitted in a series of interviews that he had an intimate relationship with the accused Russian agent Maria Butina, which lasted from 2015 to 2018, eventually assisting law enforcement in the investigation into her.
More recently, he has emerged as an advocate for the discredited voter fraud allegations announced by the President and Powell. He said that last month he had “funded a team of hackers and cyber detectives, other people with strange abilities” to investigate the claims.
Friday’s meeting was a highly charged example of a recurring phenomenon: Trump’s outside advisers raised their voices angrily at White House advisers, accusing them of disloyalty and weakness, as Trump watched.
Meanwhile, former White House strategist Steve Bannon said Sunday night that he had also advised Trump to appoint special advisers to investigate allegations of voter fraud and investigate matters related to Biden’s son Hunter.
“As I strongly recommended to the President, we need a special attorney to be appointed immediately – a special prosecutor only in electoral fraud and voting fraud, they are two different things, electoral fraud and voting fraud – he must do that immediately,” Bannon said during a live broadcast with conservative pastors Sunday night. “Also, you need to announce a special counsel, appoint a special counsel to look at Biden’s hard drive.”
Bannon’s comments suggest that the former White House strategist is once again advising the president, even as he is under federal indictment and could be under consideration for a presidential pardon.
In the live broadcast, Bannon also said that he does not believe that Trump will attend Biden’s inauguration and that Trump will “never give in.”
He’s not going to back down. It will never budge. And I’ll tell you that on the slim chance that we don’t win this, he will never sit on that stage and participate in that inauguration, like he shouldn’t. This is an illegal effort that is happening, ”said Bannon.
A day later, Bannon spoke about his own show, “War Room,” with Navarro, the trade adviser who officials say Trump frequently consults about his allegations of voter fraud.
Navarro said he had been personally phoning lawmakers in six states where Trump and his team still hope to overturn the results.
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“There are many traditional Republicans who do not want to jump on the Trump train. I cannot explain what is happening in these state legislators, except to say that they do not embrace economic nationalism and have turned their back on the president, ”Navarro said.
On Monday, the division between the president’s official group of advisers and the informal group that currently speaks in his ear became apparent.
Speaking during a press conference at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr roundly rejected calls from the president in recent days for special counsel on voting or requests from his supporters to consider seizing voting machines. Both are ideas raised by Powell and others who have spoken with the president in recent days.
“I don’t see any basis for the seizure of machines by the federal government,” Barr said at his press conference. If you thought a special voter fraud attorney was necessary, Barr said, you would have appointed one already.
“Unfortunately, there is fraud in most of the elections. I think we are too tolerant, “he said. But in this election, Barr said he supports the finding that there was no systemic or broad-based fraud, a finding the president refuses to admit.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Daniella Diaz, Pamela Brown and Kate Bennett contributed to this report.
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