George W. Bush has shown how it can be done: The outgoing President in 2008 prepared his successor Barack Obama for work in the White House with great care. Few believe that Donald Trump also supports his successor. Rather, he will torpedo the transition.
In a good two months, the elected President Donald Trump will have to leave the White House if nothing else comes up. Until then, it cannot achieve much politically; there is not enough time for major legislative projects. In US political jargon, he’s one Lame Duck become a lame duck. Nevertheless, Trump as the outgoing president has enormous power, can cause a lot of damage, make questionable decisions or torpedo the handover. His predecessors give an insight into what Trump can still do.
The Former President George W. Bush appears to be the gold standard for handovers to be. The Republican is said to have worked extremely hard to make it as easy as possible for Barack Obama and his staff to move into the White House. Just three days after his election, Obama received his first intelligence briefing in November 2008. The following week he visited the White House for the first time at the invitation of Bush.
In the same month he could have met the other important world leaders at the G20 summit in Washington: Bush offered to take his successor with him and introduce him to him. His intention was therefore to prepare Obama in such a way that he would be prepared for any crisis from day one as president.
The background to this careful planning was Bush’s own chaotic arrival at the White House. Due to the lengthy countdown in Florida, which dragged on into December after the 2000 election, there was not much time to get used to the office and prepare for the move. The staff of his predecessor Bill Clinton preferred to use this for stupid pranks and vandalism than for a smooth transition. Based on the middle name of Bush, the employees who moved out are said to have removed all W keys from the keyboards and stole antique door knobs.
Who will be pardoned?
Clinton himself seemed more concerned with himself than with the good of the United States. The day before he left the White House, he pardoned 176 people, including his brother Roger, an acquaintance from his hometown of Little Rock who was involved in a real estate scandal, and Marc Rich, a wanted offender who illegally sells oil to Iran. Committed check fraud and evaded taxes. The criticism was enormous. For that reason alone, Bush went in his Lame-Duck-Period very sparingly with pardons. Obama pardoned though Hundreds of people, but not known criminals, but mainly criminals who had been sentenced to long prison terms for minor offenses such as illegal drug possession.
It seems unlikely that Trump will discover his Inner Samaritan for disadvantaged groups in his final weeks of presidency. During his tenure he especially did close confidants and questionable companions like Roger Stone saved from prison. There are certainly candidates around the outgoing president who hope for something similar. It has even been discussed whether Trump could try to pardon himself. The billionaire is in more than 30 procedures charged with fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, misuse of donated funds and sexual abuse. As soon as he leaves the White House, he loses his previously protective presidential immunity. However is unclear whether a US president has this power. As with so many other issues, Trump would be the first to try something like this.
Biden already has office space
Trump could cause further damage by issuing further decrees before his departure, with which he has preferred to govern in recent years. In hundreds of cases, he has rolled back environmental legislation that was clear Congress would have defended. The success would be short-lived, however, since Biden could immediately annul the decrees upon inauguration and could in turn adopt new ones.
A group of former White House employees from both parties also believe that Trump could torpedo the change of office by destroying important documents. For example, in a report they prepared for the purpose of a smooth transition, they cite documents that could be damaging to the reputation of the US government or allied nations. Or Washington and other governments, as in the case of the murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi to associate with crime.
The transition is still going according to plan: As required by law, the White House had already provided office space for Joe Biden’s campaign in October for a possible transition. The democratic election winner and his team can use a good 2000 square meters of the Ministry of Commerce for their preparations. They are largely empty because of the Corona crisis, as many officials work from home. Now Trump only has to admit his defeat and show interest in a smooth change of office.