Trump did not initially want to issue a video decrying the loyalists whose actions he largely supported — and whom he said he “loved” a day earlier — but he told aides to prepare a speech and then he would decide.
Once he read over the brief script they had prepared, Trump agreed to record it Thursday evening — a relief to the senior staff, though concerns lingered he could backtrack during his final days in office given his actual position has remained unchanged: that he lost the election unfairly.
The next morning, Trump was back to offering a starkly different message on his Twitter account, which has been restored after the social media firm suspended him.
His announcement he would not attend Biden’s inauguration did not come as a surprise, though Trump had been polling people recently about whether he should go and seemed open, at least to some, to appearing.
It puts him even further at odds with Vice President Mike Pence, who has expressed a willingness to attend the ceremony if invited.
Traditionally, the outgoing president welcomes the incoming one to the White House in the morning before riding together in the same vehicle to the Capitol building for the swearing in. Trump himself rode with then-President Barack Obama to his own inauguration four year ago.
In 1869, the last time a still-living president failed to appear at his successor’s swearing-in, incoming President Ulysses S. Grant refused to share a carriage with his predecessor Andrew Johnson. Johnson said he would remain behind at the White House.
Three former American presidents do plan to be in attendance for the inauguration, officials say: Bill Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush have all made plans to be in Washington for the official transfer of power.
Tradition out the door
With a traditional departure from Washington now off the table, Trump must also decide soon when and how he wants to leave the White House. At this point, Trump is expected to go to his Mar-a-Lago members-only resort in Palm Beach, Florida, after leaving the White House for the final time, despite his displeasure at recent renovations to his private apartment there. It is possible he leaves for Florida on January 19, the day before the Inauguration, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump’s reluctance to demonstrate the peaceful hand-off of power, despite declaring there would be an “orderly transition” this week, came as he contends with the political and legal fallout of inciting rioters who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday. Even after denouncing the violence in his video on Thursday evening, the next morning he lent voice to his supporters, who he said would not go quietly.
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future,” he wrote. “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
He made no mention of a Capitol Police officer who died overnight from injuries sustained while engaging rioters.
Having now conceded he will no longer serve a second term, Trump has begun contemplating how he will spend his final days in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter.
One of Trump’s closest confidantes and top aides, Hope Hicks, is also discussing resigning from her role before the President leaves office, according to two people familiar with her thinking. She has told people if she does, she would leave within the next 48 hours. It’s not clear she has made a final decision.
On Friday, word emerged Cipollone is also considering resigning, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Since the election, he had considered resigning multiple times but has been urged to stay for the good of the country by members of the Senate and the Cabinet.
Despite being at loggerheads with Trump in recent weeks, he has been influential behind the scenes this week in encouraging Trump to be more forceful in his statements. “He’s there out of a sense of duty,” one source said.
His services could be required in Trump’s final days as furious Democrats quickly build momentum to move on impeachment, potentially as soon as the middle of next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team ran through their options Thursday night and the overwhelming sentiment was impeachment was the way forward, according to multiple sources. The process is unlikely to resemble the drawn-out proceedings of Trump’s first impeachment; instead, Democratic officials said they expected it to move rapidly.
A simple majority is enough to impeach the President. If the House does, it would make Trump the first President to be impeached twice. Some Republican sources have even told CNN they want Trump removed before January 20, and two GOP members have told CNN they would consider voting for impeachment if the articles of impeachment seem reasonable.
So concerned are Democrats at the potential for destruction in Trump’s final days that Pelosi said Friday she’d discussed “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike” during a phone call with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues during a call Friday that she has gotten assurances there are safeguards in place in the event the President wants to launch a nuclear weapon, according to sources on the call.
Still, with Trump ending, for now, his false bid to overturn the results of the election, hope among advisers is that he will focus, finally, on his post-presidency.
Aides still have a long list of executive actions they are hoping he will sign in his waning days, including one teed up on buy-American provisions. There is talk of a trip next week to view progress on the border wall, one of Trump’s proudest achievements. And a raft of pardons, including potentially for himself and his family, are expected in the coming days.
Aides are still discussing a farewell address or interview, but acknowledge the video Trump released Thursday saying a “new administration will be inaugurated on January 20” is as close to a concession he will get.
“My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power,” he said, speaking in monotone and reading from a teleprompter. “This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
Trump’s highly scripted video acknowledging he will be leaving the White House is the tone his advisers hope he will stick with as he leaves office. Thursday’s video was staid, taped indoors and appeared heavily edited. Trump demonstrated little emotion as he admitted his time as president was nearing its end.
Earlier in the day, Trump called off a visit to Camp David scheduled for this weekend, according to a source familiar with the planning, which would likely have been his final time at the presidential retreat. He had been planning to go before the riots but decided Thursday, amid questions about resignations and Cabinet defections, to remain in Washington. Other “lasts” are still up in the air, such as his final flight aboard Air Force One.
As he contested the results of the election, Trump refused to engage in discussions about how he wanted to spend his final days in the White House, or what he wanted to do afterward.
Officials are eager those conservations can now begin, hopeful to spend some time focusing on Trump’s “legacy,” even though many inside the building believe it will be irrevocably tarred by his behavior that led to this week’s riots.