The New Yorker's Steve Coll sure isn't the only one who may have been wonder What Does Trump Get Out of Contesting Biden’s Win? Over the weekend, he took a stab at answering it, writing that "On November 7th, after the Associated Press and major television networks declared Biden the country’s forty-sixth President, Trump tweeted, “i won the election. . . . bad things happened.” Since then, he has mainly sequestered himself in the White House while unleashing dozens of tweets and retweets containing false allegations, which Twitter has continually flagged as unreliable."
Trump’s accusations have not gained credibility since Rudy Giuliani delivered a Borat-worthy press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, that new Philadelphia landmark, on the day Biden became President-elect. Times reporters surveyed election administrators in all fifty states and reported that the officials had found no evidence of significant voting issues. At least ten lawsuits filed by Trump’s campaign or allies have been dismissed by the courts already. This past Wednesday, after promising “shocking” evidence of wrongdoing in Michigan, Trump’s campaign released affidavits by poll watchers who had complained, as the Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold wrote, about such violations as “loud noises” and “mean stares.”
Trump, according to The Times,has asked White House advisers about using Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to hijack the Electoral College, by appointing electors who would ignore official vote counts and return him to power. Even loose talk about such a maneuver suggests how unscrupulous Trump remains as he contemplates his loss of office.
...Typically, the best way to understand Trump’s actions is to ask what’s in it for him. Four more years in the White House would extend his immunity from New York prosecutors conducting active investigations into possible criminal activity, ease pressure from bank creditors, and further enrich his family businesses: a win-win-win. Assuming that the President fails to rig a second term, he is fashioning a story about how corrupt Democrats foiled his reëlection, which might galvanize followers and donors after he leaves office. According to The Post, the President told advisers last week, “I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again.” His campaign has formed a political-action committee, called Save America, which appears designed as a means for him to raise money to influence the Republican Party after his Presidency ends. The pac is eligible to receive funds now for Trump’s “election defense,” but much of that money would likely be spent on other causes and candidates. Leave it to Trump to manufacture a constitutional crisis that also incorporates a fund-raising con.
The sheer theatricality of Trump’s refusal to concede is a distraction from his failure, once again, to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.
The next day-- also writing for the New Yorker-- Jill Lepore had a more concerning and consequential question: Will Señor Trumpanzee burn the evidence? Trumpanzee, she reminded her readers "cannot abide documentation for fear of disclosure, and cannot abide disclosure for fear of disparagement. For decades, in private life, he required people who worked with him, and with the Trump Organization, to sign nondisclosure agreements, pledging never to say a bad word about him, his family, or his businesses.... In 2017, Trump, unable to distinguish between private life and public service, carried his practice of requiring nondisclosure agreements into the Presidency, demanding that senior White House staff sign N.D.A.s." Here's more from Lepore's story:
Hardly a day passes that Trump does not attempt to suppress evidence, as if all the world were in violation of an N.D.A. never to speak ill of him. He has sought to discredit publications and broadcasts that question him, investigations that expose him, crowds that protest him, polls that fail to favor him, and, down to the bitter end, ballots cast against him. None of this bodes well for the historical record and for the scheduled transfer of materials from the White House to the National Archives, on January 20, 2021. That morning, even as President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., is ascending the steps of the Capitol, staffers from the archives will presumably be in the White House, unlocking doors, opening desks, packing boxes, and removing hard drives. What might be missing, that day, from file drawers and computer servers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is difficult to say. But records that were never kept, were later destroyed, or are being destroyed right now chronicle the day-to-day doings of one of the most consequential Presidencies in American history and might well include evidence of crimes, violations of the Constitution, and human-rights abuses. It took a very long time to establish rules governing the fate of Presidential records. Trump does not mind breaking rules and, in the course of a long life, has regularly done so with impunity. The Presidential Records Act isn’t easily enforceable. The Trump Presidency nearly destroyed the United States. Will what went on in the darker corners of his White House ever be known?
...National archives uphold a particular vision of a nation and of its power, and, during transitions of power in nations that are not democratic, archives are not infrequently attacked. Most attacks involve the destruction of the evidence of atrocity. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. Two years later, after a military coup, a minister of the new republic ordered the destruction of every document in any archive in the country which related to its history of slavery.
Richard Ovenden’s new book, Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge, is a litany of this sort of tragedy. “The preservation of information continues to be a key tool in the defense of open societies,” Ovenden, who runs the Bodleian Libraries, at Oxford, writes. UNESCO’s report Lost Memory is an inventory of inventories: a list of libraries and archives that were destroyed in the twentieth century, including the widespread devastations of the First and Second World Wars, the burning of some of the collections in the National Library in Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, and the destruction of the National and University Library in Sarajevo, by the Bosnian Serb Army, in 1992. Libraries house books: copies. Archives store documents: originals. Archives cannot be replaced. As unesco’s report puts it, “The loss of archives is as serious as the loss of memory in a human being.”
...The rules about record-keeping, like so much about American government, weren’t set up with someone like Trump in mind. It’s not impossible that his White House will destroy records not so much to cover its own tracks but to sabotage the Biden Administration. This would be a crime, of course, but Trump could issue blanket pardons. Yet, as with any Administration, there’s a limit to what can be lost. Probably not much is on paper, and it’s harder to destroy electronic records than most people think. Chances are, a lot of documents that people in the White House might wish did not exist can’t really be purged, because they’ve already been duplicated. Some will have been copied by other offices, as a matter of routine. And some will have been deliberately captured. “I can imagine that at State, Treasury, D.O.D., the career people have been quietly copying important stuff all the way along, precisely with this in mind,” the historian Fredrik Logevall, the author of a new biography of Kennedy, told me.
“I’m very worried,” Austin Evers, the executive director of the watchdog group American Oversight, told me. “There are a lot of senior officials in the Trump Administration who have been relying on impunity to sleep well at night, and I think it will dawn on them over the coming days and weeks that the records they leave behind will be in the hands of people they do not trust, including career public servants.” But, if Jared Kushner set a bonfire in the Rose Garden, Evers thinks that there would be repercussions. “The P.R.A. gets a bad rap,” he says. It’s difficult to enforce, but it’s not unenforceable. And if evidence of document destruction comes out, Evers says, American Oversight is poised to file suit: “We have litigation in the can.”
A week after Election Day, the House Oversight Committee sent strenuously worded letters to the White House and to dozens of federal agencies, warning them not to destroy or remove records during the transition. The letters were signed by the chairs of twenty other House committees. “That letter is the lifeguard whistle from the tower,” Tom Blanton, who runs the National Security Archive, told me.“ ‘Watch out, there are records drowning out there!’”
...Custody of the records of the Trump White House will be formally transferred to the National Archives at noon on January 20, 2021, the minute that Biden takes his oath of office on the steps of the Capitol. Trump, defying tradition, is unlikely to attend that ceremony. It’s difficult, even, to picture him there. Maybe he’ll be in the Oval Office, yanking at the drawers of Resolute, the Presidential desk, barking out orders, cornered, frantic, panicked. Maybe he’ll tweet the whole thing. The obligation, the sober duty, to save the record of this Administration will fall to the people who work under him. It may well require many small acts of defiance.
The truth will not come from the ex-President. Out of a job and burdened by debt, he’ll want to make money, billions. He’ll need, crave, hunger to be seen, looked at, followed, loved, hated; he’ll take anything but being ignored. He may launch a TV show, or even a media empire. Will he sell secrets to American adversaries, in the guise of advice and expertise? It isn’t impossible.
“Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden said to Trump during their Presidential debate. Donald J. Trump cannot shut up. Aside from the prospect of silencing former White House staffers, shredding papers, deleting files, and burying evidence, another danger, when the sun sets on the twentieth of January, won’t be what’s left unsaid, unrecorded, and unsaved but what Trump will be willing to say, still.