What Happens If President Trump Won't Accept Election Loss? : Consider This from NPR We know President Trump lost the election. What we don't know is what will happen between now and Inauguration Day if he refuses to accept the results.

In the short term, the Biden transition team cannot access certain government funds, use office space or receive classified intelligence briefings without official recognition of Biden's victory from a government agency called the General Services Administration. NPR's Brian Naylor has reported on the delay.

At the Department of Justice, the top prosecutor in charge of election crimes, Richard Pilger, resigned from his position this week. A former DOJ colleague of Pilger's, Justin Levitt, tells NPR that the department is enabling the president's baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

And Washington Post columnist David Ignatius explains what might be happening at the Department of Defense, where Trump's election denialism has coincided with a number of high-level firings and a debate over the release of classified information.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

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The Consequences Of Election Denialism

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The Consequences Of Election Denialism

The Consequences Of Election Denialism

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might have been joking, but no one laughed.

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MIKE POMPEO: There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. All right. We're ready.

SHAPIRO: Pompeo cracked a smile when he said it in a briefing on Tuesday. He was replying to a reporter's question about whether the State Department is preparing to work with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team. Pompeo also said this.

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POMPEO: The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today and successful with the president who's in office on January 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.

SHAPIRO: And later, when Fox News asked Pompeo if he was serious, he wouldn't say. Whether he was joking or not, Pompeo is the country's top diplomat. His words have consequences. And other Republicans have sounded a lot more serious about denying the outcome of this election...

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, number one, this is a contested election. The media doesn't decide who becomes president...

SHAPIRO: ...Like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham...

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GRAHAM: President Trump should not concede.

SHAPIRO: ...Or Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.

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ROY BLUNT: You know, the president wasn't defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all. We've gained seats in the House.

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TOM COLEMAN: You know, they're playing with fire here. And certainly, it's embarrassing for us in the world to see this happening.

SHAPIRO: Republican Tom Coleman, who spoke to NPR this week, is a former congressman from Missouri, and he's one of 31 former GOP lawmakers who issued a joint statement this week calling on the president to accept Joe Biden's win.

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COLEMAN: We believe that it - you know, it's a dangerous thing that the president is doing because once you start telling the people that an election is illegitimate, they will then cast this new administration that takes office in January, the Biden administration, as illegitimate. It's the same type of maneuvers they used against Barack Obama on the birther issue.

SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS. The president rose to political power attacking the legitimacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Now he's leaving office attacking the legitimacy of his successor, Joe Biden. From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Wednesday, November 11.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. One person who doesn't seem too worried about the president's refusal to concede is the next president.

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JOE BIDEN: We are already beginning the transition. We're well underway. And the ability for the administration in any way by failure to recognize this - our win does not change the dynamic at all and what we're able to do.

SHAPIRO: On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden said foreign leaders have already been calling to congratulate him. He's met with advisers about health care and the pandemic. And on that same day, Biden's legal team held a conference call with reporters to address some of the lawsuits coming from the Trump campaign.

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BOB BAUER: The purpose of the briefing today is to put in perspective some of what you're reading and hearing about.

SHAPIRO: The Biden team's senior counsel, Bob Bauer, described the Trump campaign's efforts this way.

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BAUER: Noise, not really law - theatrics, not really lawsuits. And I want to focus on a few very specific issues.

SHAPIRO: But there are some things Biden can't do as long as Trump stands in the way. So far, the administration has refused to issue a routine authorization letter that lets the president-elect get a classified national security briefing known as the Presidential Daily Briefing, or PDB. Normally, once an election result is clear, the president-elect gets those briefings just like the current president does.

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BIDEN: Obviously, the PDB would be useful, but it's not necessary. I'm not the sitting president now.

SHAPIRO: And that same memo that authorizes the PDB would also unlock things like office space and money to start hiring staff. Now, this memo comes from a government agency called the General Services Administration, or GSA.

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CHRIS LU: This was not an issue at all in 2008.

SHAPIRO: Chris Lu was Barack Obama's transition director.

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LU: The election was called at about 11 p.m. on election night, and within about two hours, I received a letter from the GSA administrator ascertaining that Senator Obama was the president-elect. And I'm not aware that this has really ever been an issue in previous elections.

SHAPIRO: And there are real stakes here. Back in 2000, the transition got a late start because of all the recounts in Florida. The Bush v. Gore litigation kept George W. Bush from getting a jump on his transition.

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DAVID MARCHICK: That slowed the process of the Bush administration getting their national security team in place.

SHAPIRO: David Marchick directs the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition.

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MARCHICK: Eight months later, we had 9/11. When the 9/11 Commission did their autopsy on what went wrong, one of the things they pointed to was the slow pace of the Bush administration getting their national security team in place. And they said it impaired our ability to react.

SHAPIRO: David Marchick and Chris Lu spoke with NPR's Brian Naylor.

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SHAPIRO: The president's election denials are trickling down to different parts of the government. This week, Attorney General Bill Barr issued a memo authorizing federal prosecutors to pursue, quote, "substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities." Barr also said that should not be taken as an indication that prosecutors have found any voting irregularities that would impact the outcome of the election. But when that memo came out, the Justice Department's top election crimes prosecutor, Richard Pilger, resigned from that position. One of Pilger's former colleagues thinks this should be a red flag. Justin Levitt helped lead the Justice Department's civil rights division during the Obama administration, and he's here with us now. Thanks for joining us.

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JUSTIN LEVITT: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: You tweeted about Richard Pilger, I had the privilege to work with Richard at DOJ. There isn't any higher level of integrity. This is his way of saying he doesn't want any part of frivolous, unfounded, partisan investigations into nonsense. Will you explain what you mean when you describe this as frivolous, unfounded, partisan investigations into nonsense?

LEVITT: So I don't know that we've seen them yet. I think it's his way of warning us they're coming. The Justice Department does not announce investigations. It has long been particularly sensitive not to announce open investigations without all of the facts coming to light in the context of an election and particularly not before elections have been certified and done.

Unfortunately, Bill Barr's memo indicates that there will be announcements of investigations - hasty, sort of predetermined announcements of opening investigations before any information about the investigations have been concluded. And I think the concern is - the concern that I imagine Richard had is that the announcement of the fact of the investigation itself will be used for partisan political purposes, which is exactly why DOJ does not do that.

SHAPIRO: There isn't evidence of widespread fraud. The Justice Department doesn't have the power to change votes. So practically speaking, what's the real-world impact of this memo?

LEVITT: Noise, bluster and, unfortunately, feeding the narrative that this election was somehow improperly conducted when all of the evidence suggests to the contrary. It doesn't - I want to be really clear. This memo does not have any tangible consequences for the count at all. But there is a lot of noise and bluster coming from lawsuits, coming from the president's consistent tweeting and fundraising emails casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. That affects how the American people think about it.

SHAPIRO: We've been clear that there is no evidence of widespread fraud. There is no evidence of illegal ballots. What kinds of election crimes typically get investigated and prosecuted if not, you know, fraud or illegal ballots?

LEVITT: There may well be individual cases of wrongdoing. A handful of cases is not unusual in any particular election. That office also investigates campaign finance crimes and the like. It's a section focused on public integrity around the election process. And there are, unfortunately, individuals who choose to break the law from time to time. That's entirely different from perpetuating a narrative that there was something widespread that was wrong with the election we just had. And that may be why the longtime career head of the division, whose job is to follow the facts and the law where they lead in prosecuting election crimes, said, I don't want any part of this partisan, politicized press release nonsense.

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SHAPIRO: Justin Levitt is a law professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School, and he served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil rights division during the Obama administration.

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SHAPIRO: So that's what's going on at the Justice Department. Then there's the Pentagon, where there's been a mass exodus over the last few days. First, on Monday, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper with a tweet. Then the Pentagon's acting policy chief resigned, along with the defense secretary's chief of staff. They were joined by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

That kind of turnover during a presidential transition is unheard of. And the new people stepping into these jobs are all Trump loyalists, some with questionable records. One called former President Obama a terrorist leader. I spoke to David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post, about what's going on.

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SHAPIRO: Let's start with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. You write that his firing by tweet on Monday stunned the military leadership at a time when they were craving stability. We know that back in June, Trump and Esper clashed over the use of troops to handle racial justice protests. Is that the only reason Trump fired him, or was there more to it?

DAVID IGNATIUS: I think there's more to it. There are other instances which did not come to light in which Esper had disagreed with the president. Most notably, Esper had strongly opposed the declassification and release of information that would support the president's arguments. He thinks that the Russia investigation began with a hoax. Trump supporters, led by the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, wanted a lot more declassified, and Esper strongly opposed it. He was joined in that by CIA Director Gina Haspel and by the NSA director, General Paul Nakasone.

And this went to a fiery White House meeting before the election. In the end, surprisingly to me, a strong advocate for not declassifying the additional information was Attorney General William Barr, who sided with the CIA director and with Esper - wrote a very angry letter to Ratcliffe protesting this. And I think that's a factor in the president's decision to get rid of him.

SHAPIRO: Just take a step back because all of this chaos in the middle of a presidential transition when the sitting president denies that he lost the election is leading people to speculate about doomsday scenarios. You're saying it all comes down to the president claiming he had nothing to do with Russia.

IGNATIUS: So I think there are several possible explanations. But one of them certainly is a rearguard action, still fighting the battle of 2016. This has been an obsession for Trump. And it may be that this housecleaning at the Pentagon is just an act of presidential pique. He's furious. He wants to make news again. He wants to get rid of people he thinks are disloyal. It's also possible he wants in people who will accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. That's something the president would love to deliver for legacy reasons, if nothing else. But I think this relitigation of 2016 is a major part of it.

SHAPIRO: Then you're saying that the attorney general and others pushed back hard against the declassification of this Russia intelligence. What's at stake? Why is this so important? What would the harm be if this were declassified?

IGNATIUS: The argument that was made is that the release of this information would disclose sources and methods to the Russians that would put U.S. intelligence collection at great risk. And Secretary Esper said specifically that it would put U.S. troops around the world in harm's way because of the revelation of some key collection techniques.

SHAPIRO: Now I have to ask you about the worst-case scenario, which is the speculation that Donald Trump is putting loyalists in these key positions in the national security, defense, intelligence communities in order to secure his hold on power after losing an election. Do your sources think that's a possibility?

IGNATIUS: I've written that it's hard to mount a coup in the United States. We have an awful lot of blocks against that. And the most important is our uniformed military. The men and women in uniform take seriously their oath to the Constitution. And more important, they have in General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a leader who has been explicit in public and in private to the troops, you don't work for one man; you work for the country and the Constitution. So I think they get it. And it'd be very difficult to manipulate and use them in any last-ditch effort to hold on to power.

SHAPIRO: David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.

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