'You won't have to concede': How Donald Trump was nudged towards transition

Nick Allen
·4-min read
US President Donald Trump speaks before he pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey next to First Lady Melania Trump during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House -  MANDEL NGAN/ AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks before he pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey next to First Lady Melania Trump during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House - MANDEL NGAN/ AFP

It may never be known whether Donald Trump truly believed he won the 2020 US election, or if the last two weeks have been an extended face-saving exercise.

Some senior Republicans, who have remained publicly silent, viewed the president's legal assault on the electoral system as akin to a tantrum, or to him working through the various stages of grief.

Whatever his motivation, the president's decision on Monday to accept the formal transition process marked the end of an extraordinary interregnum.

It began on Nov 7 when all major US television networks "called" the election for Joe Biden. At this point, it is traditional for one candidate to concede, although it is simply a custom.

Instead, Mr Trump began making allegations of widespread voter fraud, and assembled a legal team to overturn counts in various battleground states.

Three dozen cases were filed in six states. The vast majority were rejected by a judge, or withdrawn.

Not a single case of voter fraud was upheld by a court. One legal expert described the strategy as like "throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, which I tell my law students is never a good strategy."

Watch: Trump campaign drops lawyer Sidney Powell

Mr Trump became increasingly frustrated with his legal team. But the frustration went both ways, and several lawyers withdrew from representing him in court.

Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's personal lawyer, seized control. His all-out attack culminated in a bizarre, hour-long press conference on Nov 19. The claims Mr Giuliani made about voter fraud were overshadowed when black hair dye rolled down his cheeks.

At the same event Sidney Powell, another firebrand lawyer, made claims including that voting software had been created at the direction of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Mr Giuliani later distanced himself from her, saying Ms Powell was "not a member of the Trump Legal Team". Then, on Monday, a number of things collided to force Mr Trump's hand. Rush Limbaugh, the massively popular conservative radio talk show host, and friend of the president, issued a rare attack.

He said: "They promised blockbuster stuff, and then nothing happened. And that’s just not good. If you’re gonna do a press conference like that, with the promise of blockbusters, then there has to be something more."

Several more Republican senators broke cover, and said it was time to move on. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee senator, and a close friend of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, publicly urged Mr Trump to "put the country first".

More than 100 business leaders signed a letter calling for a smooth transition. Wall Street investor and presidential ally Steve Schwarzman, said the outcome was "very certain".

The same day Michigan certified its election result in favour of Mr Biden, and so did many counties in Pennsylvania.

Mr Trump was in the Oval Office on Monday when his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, appeared for what appears to have been a crunch meeting. Jay Sekulow, Mr Trump's personal lawyer, was reportedly on the phone.

It was reportedly decided that Mr Trump would never need to formally concede, but could begin the transition.

Since the election was called Emily Murphy, an appointee of Mr Trump as Administrator of the General Services Administration, had not officially declared the transition could begin, as is required under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963.

Ms Murphy, 47, reported receiving "thousands of threats" to herself, her family, staff, and even her pets in the last few weeks. On Monday, after 16 days, she finally wrote to the Biden campaign. to say she had made the decision, and that it was hers alone.

However, in tweets sent just minutes after news of Ms Murphy's letter was made public, the president suggested it was he who had urged the start of the transition.

He struck an unexpectedly conciliatory tone, and in language remarkably similar to that used by senior Republican senators, said it was "in the best interest of our country."

Watch: Donald Trump Pardons Corn, the National Thanksgiving Turkey