President Donald Trump has turned to a fringe group of advisers peddling increasingly dubious tactics to overturn the results of the election, creating a dire situation that multiple senior officials and people close to the president say has led to new levels of uncertainty at how Trump will resist the coming end to his tenure.
"No one is sure where this is heading," one official said on Monday. "He's still the President for another month."
The president has met or talked several times with conspiracist lawyer Sidney Powell, disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and onetime chief strategist Steve Bannon, among others, to discuss theories of election fraud.
That's in addition to Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
In the process, Trump has mostly shunned those working inside the government, leading to growing fears of how he may lash out in the four weeks he has remaining in the White House — or at how he may resist leaving the building come Inauguration Day.
Through it all, Trump has mostly abandoned the day-to-day running of government. At a Cabinet meeting last week, he spent much of the time complaining about his suspicions of voter fraud, according to a person familiar with the matter, leaving some attendees puzzled at the point of the gathering.
"We won this election in a landslide," Trump claimed falsely during a Monday call to the activist Charlie Kirk, who broadcast the conversation using a microphone so attendees at a gathering of young conservatives in West Palm Beach, Florida, could all hear.
"The problem is we need a party that's going to fight and we have some great congressmen and women that are doing it and we have others, some great fighters," Trump went on. "But we won this in a landslide, they know it, and we need backing from, like, the Justice Department, and other people finally have to step up."
Sources close to the President describe particular worry among his advisers over what Powell — who only three weeks ago was unceremoniously dumped from his official legal team — may convince him to do in the coming days.
Trump's idea, which he floated in a heated Friday meeting at the White House, is for Powell to essentially embed as a special counsel inside the White House Counsel's Office, a proposal the counsel's office has not looked kindly at.
"There's high levels of concern with anything involving Sidney Powell," one source close to the President said. "The lawyers are very worried."
Powell attended a heated Oval Office meeting on Friday, and has been seen at the White House several times since then. She has been promoting an executive order allowing the federal government to seize voting machines in order to inspect them for fraud, a proposition that administration officials including acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have warned is outside their authority.
Attorney General William Barr pushed back against both the special counsel and the idea of seizing voting machines.
"I see no basis for seizure of machines by the federal government," Barr said at his news conference. If he thought there was a need for a special counsel on voting fraud, Barr said, he would have already appointed one.
"There is fraud, unfortunately, in most elections. I think we're too tolerant of it," he said. But in this election, Barr said, he stands by the finding that there was no systemic or broad-based fraud, a finding the President refuses to admit.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said Sunday night that he has also advised Trump to appoint special counsels to investigate allegations of election fraud and to investigate matters relating to Biden's son, Hunter.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama is leading an effort to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory when Congress meets to formally ratify it on Jan. 6. Trump met with Brooks and a number of other conservative House lawmakers at the White House on Monday for a discussion.
The lawmakers emerged confident that there was a contingent of House and Senate Republicans who would join the effort and prompt a marathon debate on the floor on Jan. 6 that would spill into the next day.
"I believe we have multiple senators and the question is not if but how many," Brooks said, something that would defy the wishes of Senate Republican leaders, who are eager to move on and are urging senators not to participate since doing so could force them to cast a politically toxic vote against Trump.
In his moments of deepest denial, Trump has told some advisers that he will refuse to leave the White House on Inauguration Day, only to be walked down from that ledge.
The possibility has alarmed some aides, though few believe Trump will actually follow through. How such an episode might unfold isn't clear, and federal law enforcement agencies have been loath to discuss the possibility. — CNN