'Irresponsible and dangerous': Reports of 'martial law' talk in Trump meeting draw outrage

With one month to go until Joe Biden takes office, Donald Trump remains fixated on his failed bid to overturn the 2020 election -- with his advisors reportedly floating the idea of invoking martial law, triggering outrage and disbelief in Washington.

Trump has stayed largely out of sight as several hugely consequential stories play out in the United States: from a massive cyberattack, to high-stakes talks on a huge Covid-19 relief package, to the rollout of a historic vaccine campaign.

But, according to accounts in The New York Times, CNN and The Wall Street Journal, the president found time Friday to oversee a turbulent White House meeting to discuss new ways to resist or overturn Biden's election -- with the idea of deploying the military to assist in his fight raised, before being shot down.

Multiple reports said Trump also considered seizing election machines; and naming Sidney Powell, a lawyer for his campaign team who has expounded a series of outlandish conspiracy theories, as a special counsel to keep digging into Trump's unsubstantiated allegations of mass election fraud.

- 'Rerun our election' -

Present at the fractious Oval Office meeting was retired General Michael Flynn, who was briefly the national security advisor before resigning under pressure, admitting to lying to the FBI, and then, in November, being pardoned by Trump.

Flynn recently told a Newsmax television interviewer that Trump could "take military capabilities and place them in those (battleground) states and basically rerun our election."

Trump denied reports about the Friday meeting in a terse tweet shortly after midnight Saturday, saying, "Martial law = Fake News. Just more knowingly bad reporting!"

Several senior military officers have made clear they would take no part in any effort to overturn the results of an election that has been certified by every state and confirmed by the Electoral College.

But accounts of the extraordinary meeting -- which reportedly devolved at times into "screaming matches" -- raised eyebrows across Washington, drawing strong condemnation from some quarters while others were left shaking their heads in dismay.

- 'It's going nowhere' -

"It's not going to happen," the Republican senator and frequent Trump critic Mitt Romney said bluntly on CNN's "State of the Union," adding, "It's going nowhere."

Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012, added: "It's really sad in a lot of respects, and embarrassing, because the president could, right now, be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap...." over the historic vaccine rollout.

"He could be championing this story, but instead leaving Washington with conspiracy theories and things so nutty and loopy that people are shaking their head wondering what in the world has gotten into this man?"

John Bolton, who was served as Trump's national security advisor but has been a frequent critic since leaving the administration in September, called the meeting's reported contents "appalling."

"There's no other way to describe it," he told CNN late Saturday. "It's unbelievable -- almost certainly completely without precedent."

But he also said such talk was not atypical from his former boss -- and a case of "incompetence" rather than "malevolence."

Bolton added: "He is unfit for the job."

- 'What on Earth' -

Jen Psaki, named as press secretary for the Biden administration which takes office January 20, refused to be drawn on the matter, telling "Fox News Sunday" she would leave it to others to explain "what on Earth is happening in the Oval Office and the White House."

She added: "Leadership of the Republican Party has acknowledged the outcome of the election."

But Pete Buttigieg, nominated by Biden as transportation secretary, was more forthcoming.

"Well, obviously, it's irresponsible and it's dangerous," he told CNN.

"At the end of the day, this is a country of laws, and the American people have spoken."