WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election has entered a more dangerous phase as he stokes resistance and unrest among his supporters and spreads falsehoods aimed at undermining the integrity of the American voting system.
More than a week after President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner, Trump continues to block his successor’s transition, withholding intelligence briefings, critical information about the coronavirus pandemic and access to the vast machinery of government that Biden will soon oversee.
Some former top advisers to Trump have said that his refusal to cooperate is reckless and unwise. John F. Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, called it “crazy” on Friday. John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser who wrote a scathing memoir about his time in the administration, said the refusal “harms the country.”
“Every day that he delays under the pretense that he’s simply asking for his legal remedies ultimately is to the country’s disadvantage,” Bolton said on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday morning.
The president’s attempt to cling to power played out against a backdrop of protests by Trump supporters and opponents late Saturday, with sporadic clashes near the White House. The police arrested 21 people as one protester was stabbed and four officers were injured. Rather than seek to calm tensions, Trump lashed out.
“ANTIFA SCUM ran for the hills,” he posted on Twitter on Saturday as he urged the police to move in aggressively. “DC Police, get going — do your job and don’t hold back!!!”
By Sunday morning, the president seemed to briefly acknowledge defeat, but he quickly reversed himself, declaring “I concede NOTHING!” He repeated lies about the vote-counting process, falsely insisting that Biden’s victory was the result of a “RIGGED ELECTION” orchestrated by the “Fake & Silent” news media.
Facing his final 65 days in office, Trump appears unwilling to break from the gut instincts that have guided his pursuit of the presidency and his exercise of authority in the past 5-1/2 years: a fierce determination to act only in his self-interest and a near-total refusal to accept blame or responsibility for his failures.
As the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 11 million and deaths neared 250,000, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, warned that 200,000 more people could die by spring if Americans did not more fully embrace public health measures, even with an effective vaccine.
“We are not going to turn it on and off, going from where we are to completely normal,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, challenging Trump’s claims that the virus would go away quickly once a vaccine was ready. “It’s going to be a gradual accrual of more normality as the weeks and the months go by, as we get well into 2021.”
Fauci said health officials had not begun working with Biden’s transition team. He also said the president had not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in “several months,” vanishing from participation in the panel.
But anyone hoping for a similarly quiet withdrawal from Trump as he leaves the presidency appears destined not to get it. He continues to deny facts and science in favor of baseless conspiracy theories and has moved aggressively to remove anyone he views as disloyal: a fact underscored by a purge of top officials at the Pentagon last week that was followed by an implicit rebuke by the military’s top general.
“We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech on Wednesday. “We take an oath to the Constitution.”
The president’s desperate language as he tries without success to preserve his position stood in stark contrast with the disciplined silence from Biden, who spent Sunday morning at church services and later met behind closed doors with his transition advisers. Ron Klain, who will be Biden’s chief of staff, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a concession tweet from the president was not necessary.
“Donald Trump’s Twitter feed doesn’t make Joe Biden president or not president,” Klain said. “The American people did that.”
Before going to play golf at his club in Virginia for the second day in a row on Sunday, the president once again lashed out at the news media and Biden’s supporters, retweeting reports of a university professor who said that anyone who voted for the Democrat was “ignorant, anti-American and anti-Christian.” In his tweet, Trump called that “Progress!”
He also continued to attack the election results, calling a hand recount underway in Georgia, a state he narrowly lost, “a scam.” Despite the president’s assertions, the recount, which is being conducted at the direction of a Republican secretary of state, appeared to be going smoothly, as about 50 of Georgia’s 159 counties had completed their new counts.
As Trump arrived at the golf course, dueling signs showed the deep rift in the country that he has sought to exploit with false allegations of vote-counting fraud since Nov. 7, when Biden was declared the winner. The president’s supporters at the entrance waved “TRUMP 2020” and “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” messages while protesters held signs saying, “SURRENDER DONNIE.”
The nation’s divisions were on grim display in the capital on Saturday night, when pockets of violence broke out between people rallying on behalf of Trump’s desire to stay in office and anti-Trump demonstrators. After a day in which thousands of the president’s supporters gathered mostly peacefully in support of his false election assertions, the scene turned darker as night fell.
Counterprotesters, including some from a group calling themselves Refuse Fascism, confronted Trump supporters. One threw bottles and fireworks, a USA Today reporter said. People backing the president at one point ripped “Black Lives Matter” signs off a building before trampling them on the ground.
“You could feel the intensity,” said Damien Courtney, 24, a Trump supporter from Tennessee. “It was nerve-wracking.”
The rally on Saturday also prompted Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, to wildly exaggerate the size of the pro-Trump crowd. In a tweet from her personal account, she claimed that “more than one MILLION marchers for President @realDonaldTrump descend on the swamp in support.” In fact, the authorities estimated it was far short of her claims, which echoed the falsehoods that Sean Spicer, the president’s first press secretary, told about the inaugural crowd four years ago.
Former President Barack Obama warned in an interview that aired Sunday night that Trump’s willingness to spread misinformation about the election was hurting the country’s ability to conduct the basic functions of democracy.
“It’s very hard for our democracy to function if we are operating on just completely different sets of facts,” Obama said on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “Any of us who attain an elected office — whether it’s dogcatcher or president — are servants of the people. It’s a temporary job. We’re not above the rules. We’re not above the law. That’s the essence of our democracy.”
Obama said he worried that many parts of what he called a “deeply divided” nation believed Trump’s falsehoods.
“The power of that alternative worldview that’s presented in the media that those voters consume, it carries a lot of weight,” Obama said.
Inside the West Wing, most of Trump’s top advisers have privately told him what is clear to everyone except his most loyal supporters and the Republican politicians who fear his wrath: His reelection bid has failed, and Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
A few Republicans have acknowledged that publicly. On Sunday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas joined their ranks, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected that Biden would be the next president and should have access to intelligence briefings.
But publicly, Trump’s aides and virtually all Republican lawmakers continued to stand by — or at least not challenge — his false assertions about the election.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, has taken over the president’s legal fight to overturn the election results. In interviews on Sunday with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News, Giuliani and Sidney Powell, another member of the president’s legal team, floated false conspiracy theories that there was a sweeping effort to switch votes using specific software.
“President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes, that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose,” Powell insisted. “We have so much evidence, I feel like it’s coming in through a fire hose.”
In fact, Biden leads in the popular vote by more than 5.5 million votes, a total that has climbed as states have continued counting.
At another point, Powell claimed that the CIA had ignored complaints about the software, “which makes me wonder how much the CIA has used it for its own benefit in different places.” She then urged Trump to fire Gina Haspel, the agency’s director.
Asked by Bartiromo whether the president was conceding the race, Giuliani said: “No, no, no, far from it. What he’s saying is more, I guess you’d call it sarcastic.” He added that “obviously he’s contested it vigorously.”
The president’s tweets about whether Biden had won the election came as Trump continued to spread misinformation about the vote-counting process.
His first tweet on Sunday came at 7:47 a.m. Eastern time. Referring to Biden, the president said that “he won” and claimed again that “all of the mechanical ‘glitches’ that took place on election night were really THEM getting caught trying to steal votes.” Twitter quickly labeled almost all of Trump’s posts on Sunday morning as “disputed.”
After a flurry of tweets and news reports about his “concession,” Trump insisted that he had been misunderstood.
At 9:16 a.m., he insisted: “RIGGED ELECTION. WE WILL WIN!”
The rapid flip-flop made clear that Trump was still refusing to abandon his false narrative about the vote being rigged and stolen that he has been spreading since Election Day, inflaming anger among his supporters about his defeat.
There was no indication that his tweet would immediately prompt the administrator of the General Services Administration to officially allow the Biden transition team to have access to the money and information they are due, which she has so far refused to do. Trump later retweeted a post by the administrator, Emily W. Murphy, on veteran-owned small businesses, adding, “Great job Emily!”