White House Chief of Staff Seeks to Clarify Trump’s Peaceful Transition of Power Comments

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday sought to clarify President Donald Trump’s recent comments about whether he will commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election.



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he makes his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on September 24, 2020. On Friday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sought to clarify comments the president has recently made about whether or not he will commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election on November 3.


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President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he makes his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on September 24, 2020. On Friday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sought to clarify comments the president has recently made about whether or not he will commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election on November 3.

“I think he commits to a peaceful transfer as long as it is a fair election,” Meadows said Friday morning during an interview with CBS This Morning.

The president has frequently raised concerns, without evidence, about widespread voter fraud and has cast doubt on the dependability of mail-in voting, which Americans are expected to use more this year than ever before because of the continuing threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked Wednesday if he would agree to a peaceful transition of power if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the election, Trump told reporters at a White House press briefing, “We’re going to have to see what happens.” He cited a general concern over ballots and added, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation.”

Trump made similar comments to his supporters and the press over the summer. He told his supporters during a campaign rally last month that a “rigged election” was the only way he would lose, and he told Fox News in July that he would “have to see” what the voting results are before he accepts them.

Meadows discussed the “very troubling” findings, which the FBI announced earlier this week, about nine mail-in ballots cast for Trump by members of the military that were found discarded in Pennsylvania. He also brought up reports in several states of problematic ballots that were thrown out during the primary elections. Investigations into the problematic ballots have revealed problems ranging from election officials receiving them after the deadline to voter signatures not matching those kept on file.

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“What we want to make sure is that every vote counts—but that only the vote from one voter to the ballot box is what gets counted, and nothing less, nothing more. That’s what he’s referring to; that’s what we’re committed to,” Meadows said.

“Should we allow votes to come in and be counted a week after November 3? I don’t believe so. That’s what we’re talking about. Let’s make sure that the systems that we’ve had in place for decades—indeed centuries—are the same systems we have in place now.”

Trump’s Democratic rival during the 2016 election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warned Biden against quickly conceding the race during

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The White House declines to clean up Trump’s comments on a peaceful transfer of power

“I wonder if you can just clean up or clarify something the president said yesterday,” ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany the following afternoon. “If he loses this election, can you assure us that there will be a peaceful transfer of power?”

It’s worth noting Karl’s slip-up there: He’s done this long enough to know that one of the roles press secretaries generally play is to “clean up” politically problematic remarks for the president. Which is to say, he expected that McEnany would want to spin the comments, reframe them in a way that didn’t suggest that Trump was embracing a refusal to accede in the event of a loss.

But McEnany is not a typical press secretary, just as Trump is not a typical president.

“You are referring to the question asked by the Playboy reporter, right?” McEnany replied. When Karl reiterated his question, McEnany again referred to the questioner’s publication, pointedly, emphasizing the word “Playboy.” She then said that the original question reflected the reporter’s “deranged wish” that Trump would leave the White House.

This isn’t a cleanup effort obviously. Instead, it’s an effort to disparage the question to which Trump was responding, by shaming the men’s magazine for which the reporter worked. Trump’s view of Playboy is not as hostile as McEnany’s response of course, given that he’s appeared on its cover, participated in one of its adult-themed videos and warmly embraced its employees.

“It’s a very direct and very simple question,” Karl continued. “If the president loses this election, will this White House, will this president assure us that there will be a peaceful transfer of power?”

“The president will accept the results of a free and fair election,” McEnany finally replied. She went on to disparage Democrats as being the ones unlikely to accept the election’s results.

“Are the results legitimate only if the president wins?” NBC News’s Peter Alexander asked.

“The president will accept the results of a free and fair election,” McEnany replied, emphasizing “free and fair” as robustly as she did “Playboy” a short while earlier. “He will accept the will of the American people.”

This might seem like a successful clean-up of Trump’s remarks. There you go: He’ll accept the election results. Easy-peasy. But it’s impossible not to understand why McEnany emphasized “free and fair” so pointedly, particularly given where the briefing went next.

“Yesterday when the president said, ‘Get rid of the ballots, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,’ which particular ballots is he talking about wanting to get rid of and why does he think that would help him get elected?” a reporter asked.

“The president wants to get rid of mass mail-out voting,” McEnany replied. “And that’s not because it — he’s said clearly that that could go either way, it could damage either candidate’s chances because it’s a system that’s subject to fraud.”

She went on to outline evidence which she suggested supported that idea: ballots found

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