Jan 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Top Trump advisers discuss need to resist dangerous, unlawful orders

U.S. Capitol

Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Some top remaining administration officials are preparing to resist any unlawful or dangerous orders in the closing days of Trump's presidency, senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the sensitive conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: After Trump incited protesters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday, there's a near universal view among top officials that he is unfit and unhinged, these sources said.

  • Recently departed Attorney General Bill Barr said as much on the record Thursday.

What we're hearing: While several senior officials have already resigned in disgust since the riots, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Deputy National Security adviser Matt Pottinger, there has been a heavy behind-the-scenes push to urge other top national security officials to stay on as a bulwark against emboldened U.S. enemies.

  • Multiple Cabinet officials and senators from both parties, including senior Senate Republicans, have privately urged National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to stay in their jobs for the sake of the nation's security and continuity of government.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also intends to stay on, according to a source briefed on his thinking.
  • Two senior national security officials told Axios that they and their colleagues at the top level of government have decided to defy any requests they believe would put the nation at risk or break the law. They plan to force Trump to fire them.

Between the lines: Some senior officials at the State Department and other agencies privately discussed the need to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. That idea is going nowhere.

  • Many view it as bad for the country and technically unworkable in such a short period of time.
  • Senior officials described an awkward and troubling alternative — the reality that they are staying away from the West Wing, avoiding Trump, and hoping to white-knuckle their way to Jan. 20 without having to engage much with him.
  • Yesterday, Pence directly urged the Pentagon to hurry the deployment of the National Guard to the Capitol.

What's next: Both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have publicly signaled that Congress may push to impeach Trump a second time if his Cabinet does not invoke the 25th Amendment.

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