Trump throws transition into turmoil while refusing to concede

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The US presidential transition was thrown into tumult on Monday, with Donald Trump blocking government co-operation with Joe Biden's team and Attorney General William Barr authorising the Justice Department to investigate allegations of electoral fraud.

Some Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, rallied behind Mr Trump's efforts to fight the election results.

Few in the party acknowledged Joe Biden's victory, or condemned Mr Trump's other controversial move on Monday – his firing of Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

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Donald Trump in the days since his election loss
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Donald Trump in the days since his election loss
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump leaves after speaking at the White House, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: President Donald J. Trump departs after delivering remarks on delivering lower prescription drug prices for all Americans in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Friday, Nov 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: President Donald Trump stands by after speaking to reporters about prescription drug prices in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Friday, Nov 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to speak to the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump held his first press conference in over a week to make an announcement on prescription drug prices as he continues to challenge the results of the 2020 Presidential election. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump watches from the motorcade as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, after playing golf on November 7, 2020. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump plays a round of Golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump plays a round of Golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to supporters as he departs after playing golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to supporters as he departs after playing golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House after playing a round of golf, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House after playing a round of golf, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump talks on the phone as he arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives at the White House after golfing Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump participates in a round of golf at the Trump National Golf Course on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Sterling, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Donald Trump watches from the motorcade as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, after playing golf on November 7, 2020. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump returns to the White House from playing golf in Washington, DC on November 7, 2020, after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. - Joyous celebrations erupted in Washington on Saturday after Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidency, as several people poured into the streets of the US capital -- some of them chanting, cheering and singing in front of the White House. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC on November 5, 2020. - Democrat Joe Biden is leading President Donald Trump in the race for the 270 electoral votes that will put one of them over the top, with the Democrat's campaign asserting they believe he has enough votes to win in key battleground states that remain undecided, like Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington, as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak in the briefing room at the White House on November 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Votes are still being counted two days after the presidential election as incumbent Trump is in a close race against challenger Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which remains too close to call. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
El presidente Donald Trump habla en la Casa Blanca, Washington, 5 de noviembre de 2020. (AP Foto/Evan Vucci)
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The developments cast doubt on whether the nation would witness the same kind of smooth transition of power that has long anchored its democracy.

The Electoral College is scheduled to formally confirm Mr Biden's victory on December 14 and the Democrat will be sworn into office in late January.

McConnell
Attorney General William Barr (centre) leaves the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill on Monday (Susan Walsh/AP)

On Monday, Mr Barr authorised the Justice Department to investigate "substantial" allegations of voter irregularities and election fraud, though no widespread instances of that type of trouble exist. In fact, election officials from both political parties have publicly stated that voting went well. International observers also confirmed there were no serious irregularities.

Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer said Mr Barr's memorandum authorising investigations "will only fuel the 'specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims' he professes to guard against".

Mr Biden pressed forward with plans to build his administration, assembling a team of experts to face the surging pandemic. But the federal agency that needs to greenlight the beginnings of the transition of power held off on taking that step. And the White House moved to crack down on those not deemed sufficiently loyal as Mr Trump continued to refuse to concede the race.

Mr Trump remained out of sight at the White House, with conversations ongoing about how the defeated president would spend the coming days and weeks as he challenged the people's verdict.

Virus Outbreak Trump
Dr Anthony Fauci, seen here at a coronavirus briefing with Donald Trump earlier this year, is believed to be one of several officials at risk of being fired by the president before he leaves office (Alex Brandon/AP)

The former reality TV star is not expected to formally concede but is likely to grudgingly vacate the White House at the end of his term, according to several people around him.

Also being discussed is the possibility of more campaign-style rallies as Mr Trump tries to keep his supporters fired up despite his defeat. It was possible they would feature his family and prominent supporters, but not the president himself.

The removal of Mr Esper, the Pentagon chief, was expected by some aides to be the first of several firings by Mr Trump. Others believed to now be vulnerable include FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA head Gina Haspel and infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci.

The president was given cover to keep fighting by Mr McConnell, seen by many in the GOP as the person who may eventually need to nudge Mr Trump to the exit.

"We have the system in place to consider concerns and President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options," Mr McConnell said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer countered that the Republicans' refusal to accept the election results was "extremely dangerous, extremely poisonous to our democracy".

Trump
President Donald Trump playing golf on Sunday. His public appearances have been limited since the election (Steve Helber/AP)

Adding to the sense of uncertainty, the General Services Administration (GSA) held off on formally beginning the transition, preventing Mr Biden's teams from gaining access to federal agencies.

A GSA spokesman said late on Monday an "ascertainment" on the winner of the election had not yet been made. Citing the agency's response to the extended 2000 electoral recount, it signalled that it may not do so until Mr Trump concedes or the Electoral College meets next month.

On a call with reporters on Monday night, a transition official said the Biden team believed it was time for the GSA administrator to ascertain Mr Biden is president-elect. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said legal action was "certainly a possibility" if that did not, though there are also other options being considered.

Biden
President-elect Joe Biden walks to his motorcade in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware on Monday (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Across the government, there were signs of a slowdown.

White House officials and Trump political appointees informed career government staffers they were not to begin acting on transition planning until the GSA approved it, according to officials familiar with the matter.

But some elements of the federal government were mobilising to prepare for Biden to assume power. The US Secret Service and Federal Aviation Administration extended a flight restriction over Mr Biden's Delaware home through Inauguration Day. Also, Mr Biden's security detail has been bolstered with agents from the Presidential Protective Division.

Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell (Timothy D Easley/AP)

Legal challenges already have been dismissed in battleground states like Georgia and Wisconsin. And Mr Trump's legal efforts were dealt another blow Monday when campaign adviser David Bossie, tasked with leading the effort, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr Bossie had been at the indoor White House election night party now being perceived as a possible super-spreader event after other attendees — including chief of staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and other aides — contracted the virus.

Mr Trump's public schedule hasn't included an intelligence briefing since Oct. 1. The White House hasn't provided a "readout" of any call between the president and a foreign leader in weeks. He hasn't met with members of the White House coronavirus task force in months. He also offered no public comment on Tropical Storm Eta lashing the Florida Keys.

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