From Trump to Biden – A Norm Busting Transition! Guest Author – Nirmalya Chatterjee
2020 Presidential election is finally over. But the country is far from sorting through where we are and how do we move forward. As events are unfolding, it is almost anybody’s guess what can or will happen between now and the inauguration of the newly elected President on January 20, 2021. It has already started to shatter all records and norms of a smooth transfer of power that has been the hallmark of the democratic process in the United States. And all of this is happening while the country is in the midst of one of the greatest health crises in history!
Voters have cast their ballots in record numbers for both candidates. Former Vice President Biden is a clear winner in both popular and electoral votes. But, President Trump has accused election frauds as he has been doing throughout the campaign. He has refused to concede and has mounted unsubstantiated legal challenges in all of the battleground states where he lost, namely, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia & Michigan. State officials, both Democrats and Republicans, who administered the elections in these states have all denied any voter frauds. Courts have thrown out the lawsuits for lack of evidence. Attorney General William Barr, who has been faithful in protecting President Trump’s interests, issued a memo to the Justice Department prosecutors a week after the election to look for evidences of voter frauds in the midst of President Trump’s tweets of crying foul. Justice Department’s own director of the Election Crimes Branch, Richard Pilger, resigned in protest shortly after Bill Barr’s directive for ‘abrogating the 40-year old non-interference policy for ballot fraud investigations.’
President Trump has transformed the Republican Party completely to his control in the last four years with the solid support of his base. Many of the top Republican leaders are standing solidly behind President Trump and cheering him to fight on with legal challenges presumably to retain the support of the seventy-one million voters who voted for him. Facts, logic and norms are not relevant here. In fact, drum rolls have already started for him to re-run in 2024. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in answering a reporter’s question on transition a few days ago, replied – ‘There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.’ The world is watching in dismay!
Election results are formally ‘certified’ by the respective state governments once all the vote counting are officially complete. While that process is progressing, office of the General Services Administration (GSA) recognizes the President-elect based on the projections and the losing candidate conceding the election. That recognition by GSA unlocks the transition process whereby funds are released for transition work, office space is provided for transition staff and most importantly, the President-elect starts to receive daily intelligence briefing. When Barrack Obama was elected President in 2008, the GSA Administrator recognized him as the President-elect at 1 AM of the election night. The current GSA Administrator, Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, is refusing to recognize President-elect Biden to this day. The entire transition process is on hold until President Trump allows it to proceed. President-elect Biden has called the situation ‘embarrassing’.
President Trump fired Secretary of Defense, Mike Esper, six days after his election defeat through a tweet – his customary way of terminating senior administration officials. Mike Esper was on the wrong side of Trump for opposing him on use of troops against the protesters of last summer. Esper firing has raised serious concerns on national security and chaos during Trump’s last days in office. Trump went way out of normal succession at the Pentagon and installed Chris Miller as the Acting Secretary of Defense which has raised further concerns about what he is looking for from Chris Miller that he could not get from several others ahead of him.
The constitution gives the President a special pardoning power. Many of the past Presidents have used this power, arguably sometimes even abused it, especially during the last days of their presidency. President Trump had already pardoned some of his political allies and chances are pretty good that he may pardon a few more before he leaves office. Pre-emptive pardons, or pardoning someone before an indictment or conviction takes place is not very common but has happened before. President Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon is a historic example of pre-emptive pardon. President Trump may offer pre-emptive pardons to his friends or family members who he feels could be vulnerable. Many in the legal circle believe that President Trump himself may face indictment for a variety of reasons after he leaves office. There is no precedence of ‘self-pardoning’. It is not clear if the constitution even allows it. Nevertheless, many norms have been broken during the Trump presidency. Some are speculating that President Trump could resign in the last days of his term whereby Vice President Mike Pence becomes the President and pardons Trump. This will no doubt be very weird but clearly would be the ultimate ‘norm busting’!
Nirmalya Chatterjee is an 11 year resident of Las Vegas. He is a management consultant for consumer products and the hospitality industry. During his professional career, Nirmalya had several senior levels and ex-pat assignments. He was the Chief Financial Officer for Coors Brewing Company; Vice President of Finance for Las Vegas Sands Corporation; Sr. Vice President of Finance, Galaxy Entertainment Macau; and General Manager of Revlon India. Most recently, Nirmalya served as the Chairman of the Hindu Temple and Jain Center of Las Vegas.
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