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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

If President Trump is on his way out the door, he'll have almost limitless power to reward his friends, settle scores and stack boards and commissions with his allies during his final days in office.

Why it matters: After defeat, there are no constraints on ordinary presidential powers between the election and the inauguration. Trump has shown a willingness to stretch the norms of what has been done and what can be done. So expect him to go out the way he came in.

  1. Executive clemency: Presidents can wipe away or minimize past offenses with pardons, commutations, remissions or reprieves — like when Bill Clinton pardoned donor Marc Rich despite indictments over tax evasion and wire fraud.
  2. “Burrowing in”: Presidents can convert political appointees to career employees, and under certain circumstances, presidents can make recess appointments so personnel can serve into the succeeding administration.
  3. “Midnight rulemaking”: Outgoing presidents often rush to finalize the rules that administrations write to enact laws passed by Congress.

Don't forget: Trump can still fire people — and as Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene have reported, he was already planning to push out FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper if he got a second term.

  • “It seems like an obvious point, but it’s really worth emphasizing that Donald Trump will still be president” until Jan. 20, said Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service.
  • Barack Obama sought to strengthen his legacy by filling as many federal posts as he could with people who would continue serving after he left office.

But, but, but: Most presidents work hard to ensure a seamless handoff to their successor, Stier said. “You can look to the outgoing (George W.) Bush administration — Bush to Obama — as the gold standard in how to do this best,” he says.

  • Bush was still settling into office when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, so he didn’t want Obama to be vulnerable with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, or in the event of another terrorist strike.

“Presidents who are leaving office usually do not feel wholly unrestrained; in fact, there is now a more immediate and pressing restraint: ‘What will history think of me?’” says John Burke, a retired University of Vermont professor who specialized in presidential transitions.

  • “It might be tempting for him to fire those he deems disloyal, for example, but it will not serve him well over the long run. Pettiness is an expensive exercise.”

Go deeper

Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray at a virtual DOJ news briefing on Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as director of the FBI and has "confidence in the job he is doing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed in a tweet Thursday.

The big picture: Wray, who was nominated by former President Trump in 2017 after he fired former FBI Director James Comey, came under heavy criticism from Trump and his allies over the past year.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.