Trump, who refuses to acknowledge his loss and whom officials say he is falling further into denial, is nonetheless eager to engage in a conversation about who is asking what. He has been given case summaries to review and in some cases has questioned his network of employees as to whom he should pardon.
With the end of his presidency approaching, Trump seems eager to exercise his powers before he finds them gone. Unlike practically every other issue related to the end of his presidency, his leniency is a topic that Trump actually seems happy to discuss, one person said in communication with the president, even if it amounts to another tacit reminder that his tenure at the White House is almost over.
That’s in stark contrast to how Trump has responded to another, smaller effort that is also increasing as inauguration day approaches: an attempt to convince Trump to accept the election results.
The election college’s confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory this week did not seem enough to shake Trump off his delusions about the victory, but it adds urgency to a nudge from several of his advisers to cautiously turn Trump into reality lead. Several of his closest allies have urged him to continue his efforts to contest elections and begin planning his political future after the White House – including a possible 2024 run.
But even amid the tenacious movement of the transition and rushed lame-duck activity – some of which he does himself – Trump steadfastly refuses to admit that he has lost.
In his moments of deepest denial, Trump has told a number of advisers that he will refuse to leave the White House on inauguration day and then walk down that ledge. The possibility has alarmed some aides, but few believe Trump will actually press ahead.
“He’s having a fucking tantrum,” said one adviser. ‘He is leaving. He just lashes out. ‘
The White House declined to comment on this report.
But even in the midst of his delusions, Trump behaves like a president during the winter, leaving the main responsibilities of his job behind as he looks for ways to reward loyalists while he still can.
Nowhere is the end of Trump’s tenure more evident than in the pursuit of pardon.
“It’s gone crazy,” said one person familiar with the effort. “There is a lot of activity.”
Because Trump has shown little interest in using the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney system to review executive leniency requests, petitioners are approaching the White House directly through senior adviser Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows or Counsel Pat Calling or emailing Cipollone of the White House – if they can’t get hold of Trump himself.
“Everyone assumed there was no formal process and that they should contact the administration directly,” the person said. “Everyone is hoping they have a friend from a friend of a friend of a cousin who they hope will read their e-mail.”
If there is a guiding principle in who is most likely to secure leniency, it is someone who knows the president personally or has strong connections who lobby on their behalf. At least one person who worked for clients seeking pardons said they hoped their loyalty to Trump over the past four years would now pay off.
Coincidentally, Trump is considering pardon at a time when loyalty seems to be his main concern, and has repeatedly complained in recent weeks that Republicans let him down when he needed them to reverse the election results.
He has largely frozen advisers and employees who don’t appear on the same page. One person who spoke to Trump regularly but subtly encouraged him to soften his position after the election has not returned his calls and has not heard from Trump for weeks.
In all, the president is considering pardoning more than two dozen people in his job who he believes were targeted – or could be targeted in the future – for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.
Instead, Trump has focused more on those within his own circle, including Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser who he pardoned last month.
Another name among many who qualify for leniency: Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who has been investigated by investigators for his role in hush money.
As of this week, officials said a preemptive pardon for Trump himself isn’t out of the question either.
Attempts to convince Trump to accept his loss have met with a president who seems increasingly rooted in his denial of Biden’s victory, fueled by advisers like Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis who mislead Trump about the magnitude of voting irregularities and the outlook. of a reversal.
While Trump began to accept the reality that he lost the election late last month, advisers say Trump has now rolled back and dug deeper – not only disseminating misinformation about the election, but taking it himself.
“He’s gotten so much misinformation that I think he really thinks this thing was stolen from him,” said a Trump adviser on the president.
The president also began asking if he could appoint special advisers to investigate the baseless allegations of voter fraud by Hunter Biden and Trump, according to a person familiar with the case, a move that Barr would oppose.
Cipollone, who has a close relationship with Barr, eventually helped arrange a meeting between the two men at the White House on Monday, which resulted in a cordial discussion that ended with his resignation.
Trump tweeted Barr’s letter of resignation 23 minutes after the Electoral College was officially tipped in Biden’s favor. As he had earlier on days of particularly bad news – even after the Supreme Court declined to appear at his own Christmas party – even after the Supreme Court refused to appear at his own Christmas party, Trump kept himself one floor below his White House residence.
Avoid the topic
In the White House, on the rare occasion when the talk turns to inauguration day or life after January 20, Trump is about to shut down. He has made it clear to staff in recent days that he does not want to discuss whether or not he will attend Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and has largely halted all talks about leaving the office, according to several people familiar with the discussions. That’s why the president’s senior aides were reluctant to bring it up with him.
People close to Trump continue to see it as highly unlikely that the outgoing president will attend Biden’s inauguration. “He won’t do that,” said an adviser on current thinking in Trump’s circle of allies.
Six weeks after election day, Trump has spent more than half of his days without public appearances and showed little interest in the day-to-day work as president. In total, in the weeks since election day, 20 days of no public events have been on Trump’s agenda and there have been no intelligence briefings. He has held thirteen public appearances open to the press, conducted a single on-camera interview and only answered questions from reporters twice. In contrast, he spent nine days on his golf course.
Over the weekend, as he escaped from Washington for the second time since election day to attend the Army-Navy game, Trump remained unwaveringly fixated on his election loss. Driving from the airport to the West Point campus in heavy fog, Trump posted a tweet complaining about the Republican governor of Georgia.
Once there, Trump didn’t even stay until half time and returned to his plane after recording an interview with Fox News.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.