“Everyone knows I won.”
That’s a phrase that Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former game show host and soon-to-be former president, repeated to different advisers and confidants over the long MLK Day weekend—his last one in office before President-elect Joe Biden takes over on Wednesday.
In spite of his mutterings, on Inauguration Day President Trump will leave Washington, D.C., scheduled to head to his new home base of Florida (his prior home of New York City has almost entirely disowned him) before Biden is even sworn in. Trump departs the White House with a prolific record of scandal, disasters, mass death, and wide condemnation that existed even before his instigation of the bloody MAGA riot on Capitol Hill early this month.
As a result of the president's disinformation campaign—one amplified by so many Republican enablers—and an avalanche of threats made after the Capitol riot, a swath of the nation’s capital was left under heavy military and law-enforcement clampdown, just as Trump was preparing his exit from executive power. Because of him and his party, the city and the federal government were forced to perform a simulacrum of a police state—simply to ensure that the outgoing president’s extremist supporters would allow a transition of government to occur without further bloodshed.
To another president, this would bring a sense of deep shame and regret, or at least a moment of humility. But to Trump, it’s still a matter of me, me, me. When he wasn’t selfishly griping or hollering about imaginary election-fraud conspiracies, he spent his final weekend mulling names to pardon, a power he’s used as almost a perk for some of his most crooked cronies. He also spent time pondering on how he could hold on to his cred in the GOP, while struggling to find anyone with a law degree who he thought could defend him to his liking in another impeachment trial.
According to three people who’ve spoken to the president since Friday, he has continued insisting to close associates that he actually beat his 2020 Democratic opponent by a landslide (Trump was very clearly crushed by Biden in the election), and privately expressed his irritation over how his party let someone as “fucking stupid” as Biden succeed him.
On Friday, Trump showed no signs of quitting his interest in totally baseless lies and conspiracy theories regarding his 2020 loss, having given an audience in the Oval Office to his friend, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, to share documents and thoughts on a theory accusing China and other foreign countries of hacking the election in favor of Biden. The meeting, which lasted roughly five to 10 minutes, demonstrated another familiar Trump trait: immense self-pity.
“He was upset to hear that this was happening to all the people who backed him for all these four years. [Trump] said, ‘Can you believe how they’re treating us out there?’” Lindell recounted.
Over the weekend, the president also tried to busy himself with discussions of last-minute pardons and commutations (including regarding potential clemency for a Death Row Records co-founder), a last tranche of which are expected to land the day before he gets out of town. Some close advisers, however, do not expect him to issue a self-pardon, a move that he had repeatedly inquired about in recent weeks of the transition period as he considered a life without the legal insulation and privileges that comes with being a sitting occupant of the Oval Office. And he asked some associates and aides about how they think he could best promote and preserve his legacy as he enters his post-presidency, the sources said.
In his closing hours as leader of the free world, President Trump has also focused on making his ceremonial farewell as warm as possible, during a time when so many powerful conservatives are openly wishing that he’d just go away. According to an email reviewed by The Daily Beast, the White House has “cordially” invited Trump officials and allies to a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday at 8 a.m. ET to send off the outgoing commander in chief. Those invited are allowed “up to five guests,” the email reads. Instructions for arrivals include the line: “Please wear a mask for the duration of the event,” an instruction somewhat divergent coming from a White House and a president that kept allowing COVID-19 outbreaks to flourish in the building and potential superspreader events and parties to be thrown on government property. The problems got so severe that both private and government teams had already planned to enter the White House’s West and East wings and “thoroughly clean and disinfect” the place in the hours prior to the incoming Biden team setting up shop for the next four years.
On Monday evening, CNN reported that Trump had recorded a goodbye video, with exact time of publication unclear. According to the cable news outlet, the president doesn’t concede in the video that Biden defeated him fair and square, in yet another instance of Trump perpetuating the gigantic lie that he’s convinced millions to believe or entertain.
But with his other public appearances scaled back recently and his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account having been taken away from him—permanently, Twitter says—he was left this weekend without his preferred methods for dumping his frustrations and his pet anxieties on the American public. There were no farewell rallies, and the boastful media tour—to highlight his administration’s “accomplishments” that he had discussed with aides and had started plotting shortly after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol—never happened largely due to advisers’ concerns that he could make matters even worse by doing so.
As Trump clung to his alternate universe of a re-election that he couldn’t secure, many top allies had already moved on. When asked last week if the president should just come out and tell the world and his diehard supporters that Biden indeed won, Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor who has for years advised Trump on faith issues, replied, “He would never say that because he sincerely doesn’t believe it.” Jeffress added, “Meanwhile I’m preaching a message this Sunday on what the Bible says how we should respond to the new president. We have blanketed Dallas with these billboards.” The pastor then sent a billboard image emblazoned with, “HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND TO PRESIDENT BIDEN?”
Various senior administration officials just want the show to end, tired of fighting and even more tired of trying to avoid their mercurial boss’s verbal lashings and delusional crusades. “He asked me [earlier this month] about how to punish certain Republicans who weren’t standing with him and abandoning him after all he had done for them and the Republican Party,” one of these senior officials said. “During that moment, I kept thinking about how January 20th couldn’t come fast enough.”
But even if the president wanted to, he likely won’t be able to put Washington in the rearview mirror just yet. With the possible second impeachment trial in the Senate looming, the 45th U.S. president still hadn’t decided this weekend on who exactly would staff and lead his new legal team, should he need one, three people familiar with the deliberations said. He’s having difficulty building out such a team in large part because the good lawyers have run for the hills or want nothing to do with the Trump brand name anymore.
Heavy hitters in the Trumpy legal universe including Pat Cipollone, Jay Sekulow, and the married Raskins duo have privately assured others that they aren’t going to have any official role on a new impeachment defense, according to two individuals familiar with the matter. And some top aides had repeatedly advised Trump that he absolutely should not pick Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer whom various senior Trump officials blame for helping to get Trump impeached by the U.S. House not just once, but twice.
Even Giuliani is now expected to sit out impeachment. After first having held multiple talks on the phone and in person to discuss a potential impeachment trial strategy, according to multiple knowledgeable sources, he ultimately had to tap out.
In an interview with ABC News, Giuliani said he wouldn’t, in fact, be on the team “because I gave an earlier speech [at the Jan. 6 Trump rally], I am a witness and therefore unable to participate in court or Senate chamber.”
Other veterans of the Trump legal armada weren’t nearly as eager as Giuliani was to sign up for duty this time around.
When asked whether or not Trump or anyone in his inner circle had asked him if he’d defend the president in a second impeachment trial, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who served on Trump’s defense team during last year’s impeachment trial, said on Sunday afternoon, “I’m not going to comment on what I’ve been asked. But what I will say is that I am going to continue to defend the First Amendment... and I’m going to continue to speak out in the court of public opinion and in the marketplace of ideas.”
Dershowitz added, “I am strongly opposed to putting him on trial as citizen Trump… I think that’s unconstitutional.”
One of the ways in which some of the president’s most senior advisers, including Cipollone, who serves as Trump’s White House counsel, had tried to calm the president down in the aftermath of the now infamous anti-democratic riot was to keep reminding him that his rhetorics had left himself open to possible legal jeopardy, including when out of office. But the president made clear in conversations with certain counselors this weekend that he doesn’t wish to shoulder any of the blame—even though his own speech kicked off the attack that left several people dead.
One of these people who died during the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was 34-year-old Rosanne Boyland, who according to family was a true believer in the cause. The day after the riot, Justin Cave, her brother-in-law, told reporters, “I’ve never tried to be a political person but it’s my own personal belief that the president’s words incited a riot that killed four of his biggest fans last night and I believe that we should invoke the 25th Amendment at this time.”
But for the president, now is definitely not the time for even a hint of painful self-reflection.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Trump told one person close to him in the past few days, while complaining about media coverage and comments from Democratic, and some Republican, politicians to keep saying he incited the riot. Behind closed doors, the president denounced those criticisms against him by claiming they were potentially defamatory.