Nov 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Leaked call audio shows Trump officials denying election results


Trump on election night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Top Trump loyalists are trying to cling to power by firing critics, rehiring other loyalists, instructing federal government employees that the election isn't over yet, and threatening appointees that their future work prospects could get crushed if they try to abandon ship now.

Driving the news: In leaked audio of a Monday conference call with USAID staff, obtained by Axios, the agency's top-ranking official John Barsa told staff to "play until the whistle blows" and that "DC, at the end of the day, is a really small town" — which participants read as a threat to anyone who starts job hunting.

The big picture: Monday's leaked call came as Trump and his inner circle continued to publicly deny the reality that rival Joe Biden has won the election.

  • Trump announced on Twitter that he had "terminated" Defense Secretary Mark Esper — "effective immediately."
  • Officials tell Axios they expect CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray to face the axe next.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development, which falls under Mike Pompeo's State Department, did not respond to a request for comment.

Details: On the USAID call, Trump loyalist Catharine O'Neill, newly installed as the agency's White House liaison fresh off a stint with the re-election campaign, declared: "The election is still happening. The Electoral College has not voted yet."

  • And Barsa also told staff that "there is no transition in place" until the General Services Administration makes a determination about who won the election, which GSA administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, has thus far resisted. This portion of comments from the call were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.
  • Barsa referenced Friday's firing of USAID's second-highest ranking official, Bonnie Glick, saying simply, "Bonnie is no longer with us."

Behind the scenes: Beyond USAID, Trump administration officials are telling agencies' staffs that the usual presidential transition are not to begin because the election isn't over.

  • A source familiar with internal discussions says some agency officials have been told to operate under the assumption Trump is serving a second term.
  • And as CNN's Jake Tapper first reported, and Axios confirmed, White House Presidential Personnel Office director John McEntee "is spreading the word throughout the administration that if he hears of anyone looking for another job they will be fired."

Between the lines: Veterans of past presidential transitions, including former GOP White House officials, are urging the Trump administration to begin the formal transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden, as Politico first reported.

  • "While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin," the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition wrote in a letter obtained by Politico.
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