Wel­come to the ‘Tran­si­tion from Hell’

In the time he has left, Trump has lots of ways to make Bi­den’s life mis­er­able. Here are some.

Newsweek - - Content - BY STEVE FRIESS

Two weeks be­fore

Elec­tion Day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump star­tled of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton with an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that threat­ened to un­ravel the coun­try’s 140-year-old civil ser­vice sys­tem. The White House in­sisted the move— which makes it eas­ier to fire gov­ern­ment lawyers, sci­en­tists and other em­ploy­ees in pol­icy-mak­ing po­si­tions by plac­ing them in a new job clas­si­fi­ca­tion—was de­signed to re­move in­com­pe­tent peo­ple who are pro­tected un­der cur­rent rules. But out­raged ob­servers in and out­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion feared it gave Trump more lat­i­tude to dis­miss peo­ple he views as dis­loyal or work­ing to un­der­mine his agenda.

To those in Joe Bi­den’s cir­cle, how­ever, the ac­tion was re­garded as a di­rect threat: a por­tent of the dam­age Trump would be able to do while still in power over the 78 days be­tween Elec­tion Day and In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, when the pow­ers of the pres­i­dency will change hands. And Trump’s ac­tions in the pe­riod im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing Bi­den’s vic­tory have done noth­ing to al­lay those con­cerns.

True, dur­ing their re­main­ing time in of­fice, lame­duck pres­i­dents through­out U.S. history have used ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, as well as pres­i­den­tial par­dons, reg­u­la­tory de­crees, ju­di­cial ap­point­ments and even mil­i­tary ac­tion, to help se­cure their legacy, un­der­mine the guy who just de­feated them or pay back friends and foes alike. But given that Trump has pushed— some might say oblit­er­ated—the nor­mal bound­aries of how a pres­i­dent be­haves, many D.C. in­sid­ers worry he may su­per­size the chaos an out­go­ing com­man­der-in-chief can cause. And, in fact, Trump has al­ready dis­re­garded the rules of how an out­go­ing pres­i­dent be­haves, first by re­fus­ing to con­cede the elec­tion and then by block­ing the Bi­den team’s ac­cess to se­cure workspaces, se­cu­rity clear­ances and funds ded­i­cated to the work of the tran­si­tion.

The Oc­to­ber ex­ec­u­tive or­der looks like Ex­hibit A in what could be a very long list of ac­tions to

un­der­mine the tran­si­tion. Some in the Bi­den camp point out the or­der could con­ceiv­ably re­sult in Trump is­su­ing hun­dreds of pink slips be­tween now and In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, which might throw the work of a long list of gov­ern­ment agen­cies from the Cen­ters For Dis­ease Con­trol to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, into chaos. Al­ready, Trump fired De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper on Novem­ber 9th and be­gan ap­point­ing loy­al­ists to hard-to-dis­lodge civil ser­vice po­si­tions across a va­ri­ety of agen­cies.

“These things are a dec­la­ra­tion of war,” a Bi­den tran­si­tion con­sul­tant told Newsweek on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “He is turn­ing this into the tran­si­tion from hell.”

There is no shortage of Belt­way in­sid­ers, pres­i­den­tial schol­ars and ac­tivists who share the Bi­den team’s con­cerns about what the cur­rent pres­i­dent might do to leave his mark af­ter be­ing re­jected by the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Yet since 1801 when Thomas Jef­fer­son took the reins from po­lit­i­cal foe John Adams, the smooth trans­fer of power be­tween par­ties has been re­garded as one of the most im­por­tant Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal rit­u­als, a fraught mo­ment that re­lies on the honor, pa­tri­o­tism and re­gard for prece­dent of the pres­i­dents in­volved, says Rebecca Liss­ner, a na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert and pro­fes­sor of op­er­a­tional strat­egy at the U.S. Naval War Col­lege. The process, she says, is one of the defin­ing difference­s be­tween Western-style democ­ra­cies and au­to­cratic rule.

What could up­set that process this time? “There’s a range [of pos­si­bil­i­ties] from in­com­pe­tence to out­right sab­o­tage,” says Liss­ner, au­thor of An Open World: How Amer­ica Can Win The Con­test for Twenty-first Cen­tury Or­der (Yale Univer­sity Press, 2020). “You could imag­ine a wide range of ac­tions that a lame-duck Trump could take to vastly un­der­mine his suc­ces­sor, in ef­fect, lock­ing in cer­tain pol­icy de­ci­sions that would be ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult or costly to re­verse. He could with­draw from NATO or take as­sertive ac­tions with re­gards to Iran or China. There’s noth­ing stop­ping Pres­i­dent Trump from even start­ing a war.”

Jeff Tim­mer, former GOP chair in Michi­gan and co-founder of the anti-trump PAC The Lin­coln Project, agrees: “Ev­ery time peo­ple have said, ‘Oh, no one would do that,’ Trump says, ‘Hold my beer.’”

Nor­mal vs. Trump

the most im­mi­nent threat, tran­si­tion ex­perts say, is Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­fusal to par­tic­i­pate or al­low his agency lead­ers to help—a threat he

“The Trump pres­i­dency is not a nor­mal pres­i­dency; and it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that IT’S AN OUT­LIER this tran­si­tion will not be nor­mal, ei­ther.”

seemed to be mak­ing good on in the days af­ter Pres­i­dent-elect Bi­den crossed the thresh­old of 270 elec­toral votes. “You can imag­ine Trump telling every­body, ‘We are go­ing to give them the least amount of co­op­er­a­tion pos­si­ble, we’re go­ing to drag our feet,’” says po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Norm Orn­stein, res­i­dent scholar at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “Some of that he can’t do be­cause of the law, or at least he might not be able to get away with, but they can try.”

Stan­ford po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Terry Moe, a board mem­ber of the non-par­ti­san ad­vi­sory coali­tion White House Tran­si­tion Project, fears Trump could con­tinue to deny Bi­den and his peo­ple se­cu­rity clear­ances and ac­cess to sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion. “The Trump pres­i­dency is not a nor­mal pres­i­dency; it’s an out­lier and it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that this tran­si­tion will not be nor­mal, ei­ther,” Moe says.

Bi­den him­self shrugged off the lack of co­op­er­a­tion at a Novem­ber 10th press con­fer­ence. “The fact that they’re not will­ing to ac­knowl­edge that we won at this point is not of much con­se­quence in our plan­ning and what we’re able to do be­tween now and Jan­uary 20,” he said. Asked how he’ll work with Repub­li­cans if they don’t ac­cept his vic­tory, Bi­den grinned broadly and said, “They will. They will.”

In­deed, Bi­den­ites fully ex­pected Trump to be­have as he has, given his in­sis­tence be­fore the elec­tion, with­out any ev­i­dence, that the vot­ing would be rife with fraud. Asked by mod­er­a­tor Chris Wal­lace at his Septem­ber 29th de­bate with Bi­den what he would do to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion of power should he lose, he piv­oted to com­plaints that he’d been de­prived of a smooth tran­si­tion by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and van­quished Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. “When I lis­ten to Joe talk­ing about a tran­si­tion, there’s been no tran­si­tion from when I won,” he said. “They came af­ter me, try­ing to do a coup.”

Yet in De­cem­ber 2016, Trump de­scribed his takeover from Obama as go­ing “very, very smoothly.” Each depart­ment and agency, per laws writ­ten by former Bi­den chief of staff Ted Kauf­man (when Kauf­man briefly served as Delaware se­na­tor un­til a spe­cial elec­tion af­ter Bi­den be­came vice pres­i­dent), pro­vided a li­ai­son to the in­com­ing Trump staff as well as com­pre­hen­sive dossiers on im­por­tant mat­ters of pol­icy and other is­sues. Kauf­man, 81, is now Bi­den’s 2020 tran­si­tion co-chair.

The hic­cups came, Obama of­fi­cials say, be­cause Trump’s vic­tory took even his own cam­paign by sur­prise. What­ever tran­si­tion plan­ning had taken place was trashed when Trump fired ex-new Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as tran­si­tion chair­man the day af­ter the elec­tion. “I don’t think it was a lack of co­op­er­a­tion on our part,” says Christo­pher Lu, who was co-chair of Obama’s 2008 tran­si­tion from Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and deputy La­bor sec­re­tary dur­ing the 2016 switch. “It was them not be­ing as or­ga­nized to re­ceive the in­for­ma­tion.”

Much of what Con­gress has cod­i­fied over the past decade was drawn from the gold stan­dard in mod­ern times, the Bush-to-obama ex­pe­ri­ence. Bush deputy chief of staff Josh Bolton or­dered

“We need to brace for the MOST HOS­TILE TRAN­SI­TION in re­cent mem­ory— maybe ever in history.”

de­part­ments to pro­vide as­sis­tance to both the Obama and Mccain teams far in ad­vance of Elec­tion Day, and there were sev­eral plan­ning meet­ings and calls through­out the sum­mer of 2008 in which staff from both would-be suc­ces­sors par­tic­i­pated. The law also pro­vides ex­pe­dited se­cu­rity clear­ances, gov­ern­ment of­fice space and a bud­get. “It could not have been a more col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Lu says. “When Pres­i­dent Obama took of­fice, he was pub­licly ef­fu­sive about the co­op­er­a­tion he got from Pres­i­dent Bush and he pledged that same level of co­op­er­a­tion to the suc­ces­sor.”

All of this mat­ters be­cause the tran­si­tion is a gi­gan­tic un­der­tak­ing that in­volves fill­ing some 4,000 jobs and get­ting new folks up to speed as quickly as pos­si­ble. “If you’re run­ning a com­pany, if you’re run­ning a univer­sity, you wouldn’t on one day just re­move your en­tire se­nior lead­er­ship and put it in a whole new group of peo­ple, but that’s what we do,” Lu says. “It is a pe­riod where ad­ver­saries are go­ing to try to take ad­van­tage.”

Still, be­cause Bi­den was so re­cently in power with Obama and has nearly a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the federal gov­ern­ment, he doesn’t need that much help from Trump any­way, says Univer­sity of North Carolina po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Terry Sul­li­van, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the White House Tran­si­tion Project. Sul­li­van was like­wise not con­cerned

about the fail­ure of the GSA to pro­vide the re­sources and ac­cess typ­i­cally ac­corded to the in­com­ing team.

“I guar­an­tee you that if the pres­i­dent were to block that, donors would step for­ward be­cause the vast bulk of the fund­ing for pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion plan­ning comes from pri­vate donors any­way,” Sul­li­van says. “I mean, the amount of gov­ern­ment money is sub­stan­tial and the build­ing is sit­ting there and it’s got com­put­ers in it and stuff like that. But you can ask any­body who’s been through this be­fore—the vast, vast amounts of money that are nec­es­sary come from pri­vate donors and they step up im­me­di­ately and started writ­ing checks.” (The Bi­den tran­si­tion would not com­ment on whether they are re­ceiv­ing pri­vate funds for tran­si­tion.)

One prospect is that Trump sim­ply dis­en­gages and re­fuses to par­tic­i­pate in gov­er­nance at all or de­cides in a fit of pique to veto what­ever Con­gress does. The federal gov­ern­ment will run out of money on De­cem­ber 11th, for ex­am­ple, and if Pres­i­dent Trump re­fuses to sign an­other mea­sure to keep it go­ing, that could re­sult in a dev­as­tat­ing shut­down in the midst of the COVID-19 pan­demic, says Gayle Al­berda, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Fair­field Univer­sity.

“Let’s say Trump goes to his re­sort in Florida and just fin­ishes out the pres­i­dency there, then what hap­pens?” she asks. “We need him, he’s part of the pol­icy-mak­ing process. He has to sign laws and stuff like that. But if he doesn’t, what do we do? If noth­ing is done with the coro­n­avirus, like any sort of re­lief pack­age or help with test­ing or any­thing like that, Bi­den faces a mas­sive prob­lem to deal with.”

A “Menu of May­hem”

Be­yond cre­at­ing lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges, trump and his Cabi­net could take other ac­tions that could be dif­fi­cult for Bi­den­ites to undo quickly. The range of op­tions—ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, fir­ings, ap­point­ments and im­ple­men­ta­tion of new reg­u­la­tions—is so vast and deep that the Bi­den tran­si­tion al­ready has peo­ple fo­cused specif­i­cally on try­ing to keep tabs on what Trumpers do, lest they over­look re­vers­ing some­thing im­por­tant.

“All tran­si­tions try to stay aware of what the party leav­ing power does at the end, but there are norms that kept the out­go­ing pres­i­dent from go­ing too far,” the Bi­den tran­si­tion con­sul­tant says. “With Trump, you can imag­ine him or­der­ing ev­ery last

thing off the menu of may­hem.”

There is lit­tle doubt Trump will use his par­don power lib­er­ally in his wan­ing days, given the litany of federal and state-level in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der­way into pos­si­ble il­licit for­eign busi­ness, fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal deal­ings that could en­snare son Don­ald Jr., daugh­ter Ivanka and her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, as well as high-pro­file as­so­ciates like Rudy Gi­u­liani. All de­part­ing pres­i­dents step up their par­don ac­tiv­ity as lame ducks, but ex­perts are brac­ing for Trump to push the lim­its of that con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity by at­tempt­ing to grant blan­ket all-in­clu­sive par­dons to the likes of his 2016 cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort, po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Roger Stone and his former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, all of whom have been con­victed of var­i­ous crimes.

It’s un­clear whether a pres­i­dent can par­don him­self or whether blan­ket im­mu­nity ex­ists be­cause nei­ther has been tested in court; no one mounted a le­gal chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford’s de­ci­sion in 1974 to grant his dis­graced pre­de­ces­sor, Richard Nixon, “a full, free, and ab­so­lute par­don” for “all of­fenses against the United States” com­mit­ted dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial ten­ure. (Even if Trump at­tempts a

self-par­don and it stood, he can­not give him­self im­mu­nity from state-level pros­e­cu­tion.)

While some of that self-deal­ing would be ob­vi­ous—peo­ple associated with the Rus­sian col­lu­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion, for in­stance—lisa Gil­bert of the pro­gres­sive watch­dog group Public Cit­i­zen wor­ries about more ob­scure names whose sig­nif­i­cance won’t be­come clear un­til later if they, say, pro­vide an ex-pres­i­dent Trump with fa­vors or fi­nan­cial sup­port. “We might see other par­dons for peo­ple that are close to him, per­haps con­nected to him fi­nan­cially in ways we won’t know un­til we see it, but that sort of on­go­ing con­flict of in­ter­est late in de­ci­sion-mak­ing is some­thing I an­tic­i­pate in this mo­ment,” she says.

An­other nor­mal lame-duck ac­tiv­ity, at­tempt­ing to fill federal court va­can­cies, could also be taken to an ex­treme. The last pres­i­dent to have con­trol of the Se­nate, which con­firms judges, for any part of the tran­si­tion pe­riod was Bill Clin­ton in Jan­uary 2001, but he was ham­strung by the re­quire­ment for 60 votes to break a fil­i­buster. The Se­nate, un­der then-demo­cratic Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, re­moved that speed bump from ju­di­cial ap­point­ments, so Trump will be un­fet­tered if he wants to fill the 65 va­can­cies in the federal ju­di­ciary, 40 of which al­ready have nom­i­na­tions pend­ing.

Even if the GOP loses con­trol of the Se­nate af­ter the two Ge­or­gia Se­nate runoff elec­tions in Jan­uary, ob­servers fear the record speed with which Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell pushed through the con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Amy Coney Bar­rett is a new model for ap­proval of ju­di­cial ap­point­ments. A turbo-charged Se­nate could swiftly hand life­time ap­point­ments to dozens of un­vet­ted and un­qual­i­fied ju­rists, says Den­nis Parker of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Law and Eco­nomic Jus­tice. “This has con­se­quences that are the long­est last­ing and can’t be re­versed,” Parker says. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­ally pri­or­i­tized this.”

Trump sup­port­ers take is­sue with the idea that rush­ing through court ap­point­ments is a prob­lem, not­ing that it is the pres­i­dent’s pre­rog­a­tive. “The pres­i­dent has a great track record from a con­ser­va­tive stand­point on fill­ing ju­di­cial va­can­cies and

what­ever va­can­cies are open that the Se­nate can con­tinue to fill, they should ab­so­lutely do that,” says Genevieve Wood, se­nior pol­icy ad­viser for the con­ser­va­tive think tank, the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “You know, they’re get­ting paid to the end of the year, so they should con­tinue to do their jobs.”

Im­mi­gra­tion-re­form ad­vo­cates are also con­cerned that Trump, whose po­lit­i­cal rise was pow­ered by a hard line on the is­sue, could or­der wide­spread Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment raids to “get rid of as many peo­ple as they can,” says Sirine She­baya, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Project of the Na­tional Lawyers Guild. “Once they have a hold on some­one, it’s very hard to get them to un­hold, even if there wasn’t a good rea­son for en­force­ment against that per­son in the first place. So some of these things will po­ten­tially have ram­i­fi­ca­tions even [when] Bi­den comes in.”

Sev­eral ma­jor pro­gres­sive groups also fear that Trump could rush through new agency rules that would re­quire Bi­den to spend months work­ing through the cum­ber­some rule-mak­ing process— which re­quires at least a 30-day pe­riod of public com­ment—or file law­suits to pre­vent the en­act­ment of Trump ef­forts. “The more they do in a flurry at the end of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the harder it will be to catch every­thing,” Gil­bert says. “Even if the Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion comes in on Day One and says, ‘All these rules are re­scinded,’ it’s still go­ing to take time to ac­tu­ally undo.”

The list of pos­si­ble rules is long. The EPA, for in­stance, has been plan­ning to en­act a reg­u­la­tion that would bar the agency from con­sid­er­ing cer­tain sci­en­tific stud­ies on top­ics like cli­mate change. The Depart­ment of the In­te­rior has al­ready fi­nal­ized rules open­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tally vul­ner­a­ble Arc­tic Wildlife Refuge to oil ex­trac­tion and Ton­gass Na­tional For­est in Alaska to log­ging, so the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could move quickly to grant leases. “It’s pos­si­ble that be­tween now and Jan­uary, that you could see a huge ef­fort ramped up to log­ging at Ton­gass, and that you can’t re­verse,” says Tim Don­aghy, a se­nior re­search spe­cial­ist with Green­peace.

Con­ser­va­tives have their own con­cerns. Wood, of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, is con­cerned about Trump’s com­ments in the last month of the cam­paign about want­ing a large COVID-19 re­lief pack­age. “What con­ser­va­tives want the pres­i­dent to do is not spend more money,” Wood says. “We want to see spend­ing reined in. We want the pres­i­dent to work with con­ser­va­tives in Con­gress to en­sure this doesn’t turn into a spend­ing train on the way out of of­fice. That’s not a way to en­shrine your legacy among con­ser­va­tives who’ve been real cham­pi­ons of his pres­i­dency.”

“The more they do in a FLURRY AT THE END of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the harder it will be to catch every­thing.”

Ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, too, are on the menu—al­though they can be re­versed eas­ily so even lib­eral alarmists doubt they will have much im­pact. Josh­hor­witz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion to Stop Gun Vi­o­lence, says, “his sons are big into hunt­ing and things like that, so maybe there are some rules around big game tro­phy im­por­ta­tion or the ex­port of cer­tain firearms he could change by ex­ec­u­tive or­der.”

One in­creas­ingly faint sil­ver lin­ing: If Democrats win the Se­nate by flip­ping both Ge­or­gia Se­nate seats in the Jan­uary 5th runoffs, there is more re­course be­cause of the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act. That gives Con­gress the abil­ity to undo ex­ec­u­tive-branch rules passed within the prior 60 leg­isla­tive cal­en­dar days.

Repub­li­cans used that tac­tic to undo sev­eral last­ditch Obama rules upon Trump’s ar­rival in 2017, but it re­quires un­di­vided gov­ern­ment.

An­other fear is that Trump of­fi­cials will at­tempt “to destroy doc­u­ments or ev­i­dence that would point to re­ally bad be­hav­ior,” Orn­stein says. In­for­ma­tion about emails in­volv­ing Commerce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross’s ef­forts to cur­tail the 2020 cen­sus, Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy Devos’s deal­ings with pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties or HUD Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son’s in­volve­ment with no-bid con­tracts, for in­stance, could van­ish. “You can think of a mil­lion things be­cause we’re deal­ing with a level of mis­cre­ants that know no bot­tom,” he says. “Yes, there are laws that the­o­ret­i­cally pre­vent peo­ple from de­stroy­ing doc­u­ments, but once they are de­stroyed, they’re de­stroyed.”

Lu finds this prospect more re­mote, if only be­cause career civil ser­vants in much of the gov­ern­ment make back­ups of most sen­si­tive records. “Even if I were to go into my hard drive and wipe clean all of my files, it’s still been backed up some­where,” he says. “Look, any­thing is pos­si­ble, but it’s not the eas­i­est thing to do. You re­ally need the co­op­er­a­tion or the as­sis­tance of career of­fi­cials to help you do a lot of these things, and if they stand up and say, ‘We’re not do­ing this,’ then that it gets much harder.”

Orn­stein, none­the­less, thinks Bi­den’s team should be on high alert: “They would be guilty of dere­lic­tion of duty if they didn’t go into this with their eyes wide open about the dan­gers and the risks.”

If there’s a com­fort­ing thought for those con­cerned about Trump’s ac­tions, it’s that he will be re­placed by “one of the most qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple to be­come pres­i­dent,” Lu says. Bi­den, hav­ing been vice pres­i­dent only four years ago and hav­ing served 36 years in the Se­nate, has an in­ti­mate un­der­stand­ing of what needs to be done and how the levers of gov­ern­ment work. “That should give

“There are laws that the­o­ret­i­cally pre­vent peo­ple from but once DE­STROY­ING DOC­U­MENTS, they are de­stroyed, they’re de­stroyed.”

com­fort to peo­ple who are con­cerned about a po­ten­tially prob­lem­atic tran­si­tion pe­riod.” Agreed Liss­ner: “He’s not like Clin­ton com­ing from Arkansas or even Bush com­ing from Texas. He al­ready prob­a­bly had a pretty good idea of who he can put into what­ever po­si­tions. And it’s not just him, it’s that he has around him, a group of peo­ple who are very well-versed in ad­min­is­tra­tion and in tran­si­tions.”

The lat­est re­cal­ci­trance, Liss­ner says, is es­pe­cially un­for­tu­nate be­cause Trump had fol­lowed the law on tran­si­tions un­til the elec­tion. “Based on public re­ports, it does seem that they have met the statu­to­rily man­dated dead­lines that have come up thus far,” she says. “They have a White House Tran­si­tion Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil, which is chaired by [Chief of Staff] Mark Mead­ows. Each agency has des­ig­nated some of­fi­cial who is over­see­ing tran­si­tion ef­forts. But we don’t know much about what the con­tent of those ef­forts are. A tran­si­tion will only be smooth if there is ro­bust in­for­ma­tion shar­ing be­tween an out­go­ing team and an in­com­ing team. Much of that is dis­cre­tionary.”

Moe says he is cling­ing to hope that Trump even­tu­ally will curb his most venge­ful in­stincts. “I do think that in his own per­verse way, he cares about his legacy,” Moe says. “I don’t think he wants to be re­garded as the worst pres­i­dent the coun­try’s ever had. He wants to be on Mount Rush­more, you know, in his own head, that’s what he thinks. And so that could con­strain him from do­ing some­thing re­ally dan­ger­ous or re­ally, re­ally dis­rup­tive through his uni­lat­eral ac­tion, like start start­ing a war or at­tack­ing an­other coun­try.”

Liss­ner is more pes­simistic. “The in­abil­ity to make Don­ald Trump play by the rules, es­pe­cially the nor­ma­tive rules rather than the le­gal rules, is min­i­mal, so we do need to brace for the most hos­tile tran­si­tion in re­cent mem­ory—maybe ever in history.”

Il­lus­tra­tion by alex Fine

NEXT CHAP­TER As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s time in the White House winds down, he con­tin­ues to bring his unique brand of bravado and chaos to the process of trans­fer­ring power. Mean­while, the tran­si­tion team of Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den (be­low) gets on with the busi­ness of set­ting up a new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

SMOOTH SHIFTS The tran­si­tion from the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to that of Barack Obama is widely re­garded as the gold stan­dard. The Obam­ato-trump tran­si­tion was de­scribed by the cur­rent in­cum­bent as go­ing well at the time but he has since taken a dim­mer view.

PAR­DON ME? Trump has openly mulled grant­ing a par­don to his former cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort (cen­ter), cur­rently jailed for tax and bank fraud, be­fore he leaves of­fice.

CAR­RY­ING ON (Above) Protests at Penn­syl­va­nia’s State Capi­tol in Har­ris­burg call­ing to stop the vote as Trump’s lead slipped away proved un­suc­cess­ful. (Right) En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists worry that Trump will press for­ward with plans to open Ton­gass Na­tional Park in Alaska to log­ging.

END GAME The days are num­bered for key mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Cabi­net sec­re­taries and other of­fi­cials (seen at right at a 2019 meet­ing of the White House Op­por­tu­nity and Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Coun­cil), as well as White House Chief of Staff Mark Mead­ows (be­low).

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