If President Donald Trump loses the 2020 presidential election to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, he will only have a total of 77 days left in office. Faced with an impending departure from the White House, the American public could witness even more bizarre episodes of lame duck mischief from Trump in the days ahead.
With more than two months of time in between Election Day and Inauguration Day, Trump would have more than enough time to create controversy and make things more difficult for the incoming president.
According to Politico, conversations between presidential legal experts, U.S. Constitutional scholars and national security officials have zeroed in on a number of key areas Trump could shift his focus to in the final days of 2020.
Revenge Attack on the "Deep State": It is no secret Trump has long blamed the so-called "deep state" for much of the alleged opposition he faced during his time in the White House, and the president will likely need multiple entities to blame if his presidency ends in defeat.
"They've actually given some thought to this already — it's a little bit surprising. I'm even a little taken aback by the institutional-type things that have unfolded just in the last week," one legal observer noted.
An Avalanche of Top Official Terminations: Since Trump has a history of late Friday evening firings, there is speculation that more terminations could come post-election. The president has long had a list of top-ranking officials he reportedly would not mind parting ways with including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and CIA Director Gina Haspel. Most recently, the president has publicly criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr for failing to launch certain investigations that might prove to be beneficial for his re-election.
In conversation, experts and scholars also discussed another nightmare scenario that could play out depending on the outcome of the election—an attempted firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
"Trump, in theory, could order Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar or the head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, to fire Fauci — and fire them if they refuse — but the current civil service protections would mean that Fauci could likely appeal and successfully run out the clock on the Trump administration before he would be forced to leave his office."
Pardons: In an effort to exercise his presidential power before it expires, Trump could opt to execute a significant number of pardons. Many legal experts agree this may be the easiest exercise of power the president will still have.
"The pardon power operates in the way he imagines the presidency to operate — you wave your hand and it's done," says Quinta Jurecic, the managing editor of the blog Lawfare. "I'm absolutely expecting him to do something weird."
"The pardon power is the easiest to exercise," says law professor Jack Goldsmith, who previously headed Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Destruction of Records: From the Trump administration's move to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s hospital data for coronavirus-related reporting to its attempts to kneecap the U.S. Census, the president has a history of destruction and obstruction that might worsen in the days to come. Although the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act typically requires previous administrations to maintain documentation and full record of White House work, out of defiance, this rule may not be followed by the Trump administrant.
If there is anything the Trump administration would like to keep from surfacing, they will likely get to work covering their tracks almost immediately after the election.
"They're just going to not care about the Records Act — just like they didn't care about the Hatch Act. It falls into the category of nuisance laws that they just don't think apply to them. Like what's going to happen to them if they don't?" a legal observer noted. "That's less indicative of him and more about the type of people he has brought around him."
Obstruction of New Administration: It has been said by many politicians on both sides of the fence that Trump will not leave quietly. There is also a possibly that the president will refuse to cooperate with the next administration if he loses the election.
Military Attacks: Aggression and compulsion could lead to Trump to stir up more controversy. Former national security advisors have also raised concerns about the possibility of Trump becoming aggressive and causing foreign conflicts before leaving office.
"Up until the final minutes of a presidency, the so-called 'nuclear football' remains close at hand for the commander-in-chief, and while presidents have traditionally delayed potentially escalatory actions during a transition to avoid hamstringing their successor, such restraint is merely a norm.
In theory, Trump could launch military strikes, initiate covert actions and even launch a full-scale nuclear war right up until 11:59 a.m. on Jan. 20."