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Journalist Details 'Potential Mischief' Of Trump's Remaining Weeks In Office

Politico's Garrett Graff says Trump is already blocking president-elect Biden's access to classified information. Some worry he might destroy White House records and begin issuing pardons.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Presidents typically reserve their most controversial decisions for their last weeks in office, writes my guest, journalist Garrett Graff. He says, so imagine what might happen in a post-election period when Donald Trump, a president who has spent four years demonstrating his lack of interest in norms and practices of a democracy, retains all the powers and authority of the presidency and officially has nothing left to lose.

In an article in Politico Magazine, Graff lays out some of the norm-busting actions Trump may take in the days remaining in his presidency. Graff wrote that article just before the election. Since then, President Trump has broken other norms by refusing to concede the election, making baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud and pursuing legal challenges. Trump is also standing in the way of a smooth transition by blocking President-elect Biden's access to the funding allocated for the transition process and blocking access to classified information, such as the presidential daily briefing, that is supposed to be granted to a president-elect.

Garrett Graff also wrote a recent article in Politico Magazine about what Trump might do after leaving the White House. Graff is a former editor of Politico Magazine and is a contributor to Wired. He's written books about Robert Mueller's tenure as FBI director, a history of the secret bunkers built to protect government leaders in case of nuclear attack and an oral history of Sept. 11. He's also the director of the cyber initiative at the Aspen Institute. Our interview was recorded yesterday.

Garrett Graff, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

GARRETT GRAFF: Thanks so much for having me, Terry.

GROSS: Let's start with a couple of the - what you consider most norm-breaking things President Trump has done so far to interfere with the transfer of power.

GRAFF: The biggest one has to just be the simple fact that he has not yet accepted the projected winner of the election being Joe Biden. This is a very different situation than we faced in 2000 with the Florida recount. The state victories across the country are definitive. They are decisive. And Joe Biden looks like he's actually on his way to a comfortable victory in the Electoral College. And the fact that now, more than a week after the election, Donald Trump has not yet accepted that - he's not yet given permission for Republican leaders to accept that and not yet given permission for the U.S. government to accept that - is deeply worrisome.

There's a second level of his norm-breaking that we are already beginning to see, which is one of the things that I had speculated about before the election, which is widespread firings of senior government officials, a housecleaning, if you will, among top national security and intelligence leaders in a way that is worrisome from the - a national security perspective amid a transition. We've never seen a president in a lame-duck period like this fire, for instance, the defense secretary.

And this is injecting a lot of uncertainty and instability into some very key American institutions at a moment where you are already facing uncertainty and instability amid a presidential transition.

GROSS: Attorney General William Barr has given federal prosecutors approval to pursue allegations of, quote, "voter tabulation irregularities" in certain cases before results are certified. But he added, in terms of investigating voter fraud, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries. So what does that mean? 'Cause you could argue that all of Trump's claims about voter fraud are specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched.

GRAFF: Yeah. And on the one hand, it seems a little too early to know whether this Barr memo is just sort of bluster and performative to give Donald Trump a little bit of cover as he carries out these, as you said, sort of specious court filings and court arguments around the country around voter fraud, all of which have been turned aside unanimously by courts across the country, state after state. And there is indeed no evidence of any widespread fraud and certainly no evidence of any fraud anywhere close to the level of the victories that we are seeing Joe Biden pile up in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia.

At the same time, though, there is reason to be worried that Bill Barr's memo might be more than just hot air. Just a few hours after he issued that memo, we saw the head of the election crimes unit at the Justice Department resign in protest. And that's a worrisome statement by someone who is presumably in a good position to know what Bill Barr might be trying to do with that memo. But we haven't yet seen any evidence of that Barr memo appearing in court across the country in investigations carried out by the federal government.

GROSS: Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, was fired this week - so were three other top officials in the Defense Department. After being fired, Esper said, who's going to come in behind me? It's going to be a real yes man, and then God help us. What went through your mind when he said that?

And I ask you this because you wrote a book about the United States government's doomsday plans - in other words, if there is a nuclear attack, where are the secret bunkers? Who in the government gets to go in those secret bunkers? What's the chain of command? How do they operate afterwards? So I know you've given a lot of thought to the nuclear football and what happens before and after a nuclear attack. So, you know, the God-help-us made me kind of think - is Esper thinking about a nuclear issue?

GRAFF: It's possible. The reason - there are sort of two reasons to be specifically concerned about Esper's firing. One is that one of the main sources of tension between Donald Trump and Mark Esper earlier this year was Esper's refusal to allow the U.S. military to be used in domestic law enforcement over the summer during the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Donald Trump wanted to bring in the U.S. military to restore order to places like Washington, D.C., and Esper argued that that is both illegal and against, you know, just the norms of American democracy. And so, you know, there's an obvious concern, as we face another moment of political instability, about whether Donald Trump is looking for someone who will be willing to use the U.S. military to quell domestic unrest.

The second reason to be concerned is that Donald Trump didn't just fire Mark Esper; he installed Chris Miller as the new acting secretary of defense. Now, Miller is someone who is not the next in line for defense secretary under normal circumstances. There is a confirmed deputy secretary of defense who should be the one stepping into the top Pentagon role, and instead, Donald Trump went outside the normal order of succession to bring over Chris Miller, who's currently the head of the National Counterterrorism Center and was, as recently as August, a deputy assistant secretary in the Pentagon overseeing special operations.

And that is effectively a five-rank promotion for Chris Miller from, you know, deputy assistant secretary up to acting secretary. And you have to ask yourself, why Chris Miller, and what is Donald Trump looking for in Miller specifically that he couldn't get from, you know, the literally dozens of people in the normal order of succession ahead of Miller?

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Garrett Graff. His recent articles in Politico Magazine are about norms President Trump may break between the election and Joe Biden's inauguration and what Trump might do after leaving office. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with journalist Garrett Graff about his two latest articles in Politico Magazine - norms President Trump may break in the days remaining in his presidency and what he may do after leaving the White House.

One of the things you speculate about, which may already be happening, is that President Trump can take revenge on the deep state in his lame-duck weeks. What do you mean by that?

GRAFF: Yeah. I mean, we have seen Donald Trump sort of rail against the government bureaucracy, the career civil servants in the military, in the intelligence community, across the rest of the federal government. And there are sort of two areas to be particularly concerned about in the final weeks of the Trump presidency. The first is, you know, the outright firings that he might make to try to corrupt decision-making in these final weeks, some of which we may already be seeing taking place at places like the Pentagon and the Defense Department.

The second is, basically, Donald Trump creating his own deep state opposition within the federal government. There's a process that's technically known in Washington jargon as burrowing in - when you have political appointees shift over into civil service roles, where people who would sort of ordinarily leave with an administration then are now sort of permanently part of the federal government. And we are beginning to see this take place in potentially some very worrisome positions.

One top White House counsel was recently shifted over to a civil service position as the general counsel of the NSA, the National Security Agency, where presumably it would be hard to remove him in a Biden administration and where he will have enormous sway as general counsel at one of the nation's leading intelligence agencies over the declassification of information, over how signals intelligence programs unfold and how civil liberties of ordinary Americans are respected or abused.

And that's just one very specific example of something that we've already seen just a few days after the election. And, you know, Donald Trump has 70 more days ahead of potential mischief.

GROSS: Is there another example of that that you can think of?

GRAFF: That's the main one that sticks out right now. But, again, you know, we're just a couple of days into this transition period. And, frankly, we're still in the portion where Donald Trump doesn't expect to be leaving. You know, there are signs this week that, actually, Donald Trump is proceeding with vetting officials for a second term, and he has instructed the government this week to continue to move towards presenting a Donald Trump administration budget in February of 2021, where, you know, presumably he will not be in office anymore.

We haven't even yet fully seen the administration come to terms with and begin to act like it is leaving in 70 days.

GROSS: So the administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy - who's a Trump appointee - she has to formally recognize Biden as the president-elect before the transfer of power can actually begin. She's declined to do that so far. So that's what is blocking all the transition funding. That's what's blocking Biden's ability to get the presidential daily briefing. It's what's blocking his ability to get the funding to launch his new administration. How unprecedented is this?

GRAFF: Totally unprecedented. We're already calling Joe Biden the president-elect, but there are really two moments where a president officially and legally becomes president-elect. And the first is when he is designated by the GSA administrator as the president-elect in a process that's known as ascertainment, that the GSA administrator has to ascertain that he is the likely winner of the Electoral College vote and sends him a letter basically saying, Dear Joe Biden, it looks like you are going to be the next president of the United States; you are now officially the president-elect.

And as you said, that unlocks millions of dollars in transition funding for him. It unlocks government office space for his transition staff, government email addresses, government cellphones - I mean, sort of all of the information that agencies and departments have prepared for the transition. It gives his staff the legal authority to show up at agencies and departments and begin to talk with government officials. And it unlocks their ability to receive classified information, including, as you said, the president's daily brief, the daily intelligence briefing prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

That is normally a very routine process. In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, the GSA administrator ascertained that he was the president-elect around 1:00 a.m. on election night, you know, just within literal hours of the networks declaring the election. And that this is something that we have never seen before, where the networks have called the election, and the GSA administrator is basically waiting to get official word from the president, presumably, that he is conceding.

And one of the reasons to be sort of concerned about the partisan nature of this is that just a couple of days before the election - literally, a couple of days before the election - the White House installed one of its own White House counsels, a Trump administration lawyer, as the general counsel at the GSA, which is a, you know, weird bureaucratic sleight of hand that presumably is helping to hold up the transition process right now.

GROSS: Does Trump legally have to concede before the Biden administration moves forward, before Biden is named, you know, officially president, before he's certified?

GRAFF: So in theory, no. Joe Biden - presumably, over the next couple of weeks, states will certify their own election results, which is a formal process done generally by either the governor or the secretary of the state. That will then translate into instructions for the Electoral College voters, who will meet on December 14 in state capitols around the country and sign their votes for the presidency, officially. Those are then transmitted to Congress, who will convene at 1:00 p.m. on the afternoon of January 6 to count and certify the election results. And that it's that Electoral College vote that actually then establishes the official president-elect status that would then lead to the president taking office at noon on January 20.

So in theory, Donald Trump doesn't have to concede in order for that process to unfold. But in, you know, the entire history of the United States, part of the key of a peaceful transition of power from one presidency to the next has been the willingness of presidents to put aside partisan differences for the good of the nation following a legitimate election result.

GROSS: Now, I think you said that the head of the General Service Administration, Emily Murphy, is waiting for Trump to concede before she certifies Joe Biden as the president-elect. But does she legally have to wait for Trump to concede before certifying Biden?

GRAFF: Not at all. This is a decision that she alone can make at any time. She can ascertain, officially, Joe Biden as the president-elect whenever she wants, and the fact that she has not is troubling and worrisome and goes against, you know, decades of normal practice of the federal government.

GROSS: Do you think that this is in a way, like, the ultimate norm-breaker, you know, refusing to concede, saying that there was, you know, massive fraud when there was not or there's absolutely no evidence of that and blocking the next president from beginning his transition? I mean, Biden's moving forward anyways. But, you know, there's things that he doesn't have access to. There's money that Biden doesn't have access to. Is this the ultimate in breaking norms? You know, American democracy depends on a president leaving power when he's lost the election, as Trump clearly has.

GRAFF: Absolutely. And I would sort of go one step further, which is to say this president's unwillingness to concede in what by all stretch of, you know, bipartisan agreement is a legitimate, free and fair and secure election is an attack on the very core of the United States. You know, part of the challenge of the democracy that we have, the republic that we have, is that what America really is, is an idea. It is these traditions. It is these institutions - the idea of a peaceful transition of power, the idea of the rule of law, the idea of a free press.

And generation after generation, our ancestors have tended these, guarded them, passed them along to future generations. And the model of American democracy is that it is for the current generation to care for these institutions and these traditions for future generations. And what Donald Trump is engaged in right now, by refusing to concede the election, a decision that is being enabled by and aided and abetted by the leaders of the Republican Party right now, I would argue, is an assault not just on every generation of Americans thus far, but an assault on every generation of Americans yet to come.

GROSS: Let me introduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Garrett Graff. And his recent articles in Politico Magazine are about norms President Trump may break between the election and Joe Biden's inauguration and what Trump might do after leaving office. We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with journalist Garrett Graff. His two latest articles in Politico Magazine are about what norms President Trump may break in the remaining weeks of his presidency and what Trump may do after leaving the White House, including how he might try to make money to pay off his debts That will be coming due. Graff is a former editor of Politico Magazine, the author of several books, including one about Robert Mueller and is the director of cyber initiatives at the Aspen Institute.

Now, another category of concerns you bring up in terms of what Trump may do in his lame duck weeks is to destroy records, like, White House records and obstruct access to information for Biden when he becomes president. So what are some of the things that you're concerned Trump might do to destroy or hide or block access to records of his presidency?

GRAFF: Yeah. So there are sort of two directions of this fear. One is documents that could be destroyed such that we never understand how debates unfold or in situations like, for instance, the child separation policy of the federal government as part of the immigration debate, where officials might fear that they might face criminal investigation after leaving office. You might see them attempt to destroy documents that outline potential criminal liability. So there's a destruction aspect to it.

There's also a declassification aspect to this, which is Donald Trump has already shown that he is willing to declassify documents that are politically embarrassing to his adversaries and that we might see him race over the next 70 days or so to push out embarrassing secrets or embarrassing documents or potentially scandalous documents about folks like Hillary Clinton or other political adversaries where he just wants to weaponize the information of the federal government before he leaves office.

GROSS: So during the Trump presidency, Trump spoke several times and met with Vladimir Putin but kept the content of those conversations secret. Is there any way to get access to those records? Is there any way for Biden to get access to those records?

GRAFF: The short answer is there should be, you know, those types of documents, even if they are highly classified, should be protected from destruction legally. Whether that actually stands out in this case, whether that actually unfolds normally in this case, I think is not a foregone conclusion. The good news is many of these records are going to be digital. And so it's going to be harder to track down and delete fully all of the copies of the records, given the classified nature of some of these systems.

GROSS: Let's talk about some of the relatively conventional things that Trump might do during his lame duck weeks. In your article, you write about pardons, pardons he might give to protect his family and people who have protected him. Who are you thinking of that he could possibly pardon before leaving office?

GRAFF: Yeah. So one of the things to remember is that this is a moment in presidencies where even presidents who care about their historical legacy, care about respecting democratic norms normally take their most controversial action. So you saw President George H.W. Bush pardon the leading figures in the Iran-Contra scandal during this time period after he lost his election. You saw President Clinton pardon 140 people, including Marc Rich, in the final hours of his presidency. And you saw Barack Obama commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning in the final weeks of his presidency. So the pardons are normally a controversial part of a presidency in these final weeks.

What's unique about Donald Trump is that pardons have already been a controversial part of his presidency. And we have seen him exercise that power in ways that benefit his friends, benefit potentially criminal co-conspirators of his like Roger Stone, as well as sort of all manner of political allies, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D'Souza, Bernie Kerik, Conrad Black and other sort of right wing cause celebres.

So one of the things that I think we could look at over the next couple of weeks is after whichever moment he sort of comes to terms with the fact that he's actually going to leave office in January, first, you could see him offering presidential pardons or commutations to other people who are caught up in the Russia investigation, people like Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, perhaps including Paul Manafort and other figures. The second category are sort of blanket preemptive pardons for the president's own family, close friends, campaign associates and aides who might face investigation and charges after Trump leaves office.

GROSS: Can you explain how the preemptive pardon works and why a president, including President Trump, could pardon somebody before they're even charged with a crime?

GRAFF: Yeah. And this is where we actually turn back to the Nixon presidency, which is he had not actually been charged when Gerald Ford pardoned him. And Gerald Ford made the argument that it was important to allow the country to basically move forward without a criminal investigation into, you know, unspooling for years into the criminality of Richard Nixon's administration. And so he offered - you know, this is not a legal term, but effectively a blanket preemptive pardon that would stop a federal investigation from really pursuing charges against Richard Nixon in the first place.

GROSS: So is this something that's built into the presidency? Or is this something that kind of evolved over the years, the idea of the preemptive pardon?

GRAFF: Yeah. So the presidential pardon is written into the Constitution. It is one of the most powerful and direct powers that the presidency has. And it's really one of the only places where presidential power works in the way that Donald Trump sort of imagines the presidency works, which is, you know, wave a magic wand, sign a piece of paper and the deed is done. And Donald Trump has repeatedly turned to pardons and commutations, in part because he sort of loves that instant gratification aspect of the presidential pardon. One of the big open questions is whether Donald Trump could, in fact, pardon himself and offer a self-pardon to ensure that he is - does not face any federal criminal charges or investigations after he leaves office. Most legal scholars tend to believe that the president does not have that ability to self-pardon. But, for instance, if Donald Trump resigned at 11:00 a.m. on January 20, and Mike Pence had one hour as president of the United States, he could issue a pardon for Donald Trump before the end of Donald Trump's term. So it would be weird. It would be unprecedented. It would be, you know, a hugely politically explosive act for Mike Pence to undertake. But, you know, this is the Trump administration and weird things have happened.

GROSS: Getting back to the preemptive pardon. So the Constitution gives the president the right to pardon, but does it say anything about a preemptive pardon, pardoning somebody before they've even been accused of a crime?

GRAFF: Effectively what the pardon power allows is for you to be pardoned for offenses against the United States. And what that means is the way that a pardon actually legally plays out, you would be brought into court to face criminal charges. And you would say, you know, I have this presidential get-out-of-jail-free card right here that pardons me from this offence. So you could see a prosecutor bring charges against the president for, say, a self-pardon. And you could see a court challenge arise when former President Trump presents that pardon in federal court about whether that preemptive pardon actually is legal. But, you know, it would certainly be discouraging to a federal prosecutor to go into a court case knowing that there was the possibility that the charges had already been pardoned.

One thing that is important to caveat this with is that presidential pardons only deal with federal crimes. And that what you see is investigations unfolding, for instance, at the New York state level with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James. And there is nothing that Donald Trump could do to get out of criminal charges or court challenges arising at the state or local level.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Garrett Graff. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with journalist Garrett Graff about his two latest articles in Politico Magazine. They're about norms President Trump may break in the days remaining in his presidency and what he may do after leaving the White House.

Let's talk about some of the things Trump might do after leaving the White House. As you point out, he'll have a lot of debt to pay off. What's the estimate of how much debt he's going to have to pay off?

GRAFF: Well, we know from the incredible work of The New York Times this fall reporting on his taxes that he faces about $420 million in debt that comes due over the next couple of years, as well as a lot of other open questions, including potentially as much as a 90 or $100 million tax bill from the IRS amid an ongoing tax dispute that he has there, as well as a lot of other debt related to his business in all sorts of different directions and different properties around the world.

GROSS: Now, I wasn't aware of this, but ex-presidents get $200,000 annual pensions for the remainder of their lives and about a million dollars a year for travel and office expenses and also franking privileges. That means you can mail things without having to pay. I don't know if that includes Federal Express (laughter) or just the USPS. This is an important question for franking. But - so what opportunities do you see to use money designed to help and to protect the president where he can take that money and channel it into his businesses?

GRAFF: So the biggest opportunity he's going to have is the fact that he receives lifetime Secret Service protection. And what we have seen through his presidency is, you know, on the one hand, he brags about how he forgoes his salary as president and donates it to charity. But what he has done throughout his presidency is by traveling to his own properties - to Mar-a-Lago, to Bedminster, to his golf course outside of Washington - he has directed millions upon millions of dollars of government spending to his own properties, you know, in terms of hotel bills, in terms of golf cart rentals.

And that is going to be money that the U.S. Secret Service is going to have to continue to spend on him in the years ahead, particularly if he takes up residence at his own properties, as he presumably will, you know, potentially Mar-a-Lago through the winter and his Bedminster, N.J., golf course in the summer and maybe some combination of the Trump Hotel in Washington as well. And that's been pretty expensive for the Secret Service. I mean, they charge - his Bedminster golf course charges him $17,000 a month for the Secret Service to rent a cottage in Bedminster. The - Mar-a-Lago charges the U.S. government as much as $650 a night for rooms at Mar-a-Lago. And the Secret Service, even this summer, actually paid $179,000 to rent golf carts and other vehicles at his New Jersey golf course. So this is a spigot of government money that he will get simply because the Secret Service is going to be following him wherever he goes.

GROSS: And is it more profitable for Trump in terms of the income and his properties to move from property to property? Because the way that Mar-a-Lago was rezoned, he can't live there full time anymore, because it's - I think it's designated as a commercial property now. So he can't have full-time residence there. So is it more profitable if he moves from property to property?

GRAFF: It's certainly more profitable in the fact that the Secret Service will have to set up multiple protection systems at each of his properties as they move back-and-forth. And this is all, again, sort of imagining a relatively normal set of presidential activities. One of the things that the president will be doing, presumably once he leaves office, is beginning to think about a presidential library and presidential museum. Those have traditionally been nonprofit entities that back up the National Archives' version of the presidential library. But there's no reason the President Trump, for instance, couldn't create a for-profit, you know, Trump world, you know, MAGA mega resort in Florida, you know, to compete with the other attractions in Orlando and bring his millions of diehard fans to Trump world to pay to see Trump family members, to sort of serve as a rallying point for his movement as it goes forward.

GROSS: So you're envisioning a possible, like, Trump theme park?

GROSS: And I think, you know, if you are Donald Trump and you are in the business of hospitality and you are the showman that Donald Trump is, you know, that is exactly the type of model that I would be trying to pursue, particularly if, as Donald Trump hints from time to time, he might actually be interested in continuing in politics and continuing potentially to run for election in 2024 if he loses and leaves office in January.

GROSS: So you're saying that there's a possibility - and this is just pure speculation - that Trump would create a kind of presidential library/theme park that I presume you'd have to charge admission for?

GRAFF: Yes. And it could serve as sort of the focal point of his presidential - post-presidential activities. It could sort of serve as a mecca for his fans and Republican acolytes to come and pay homage to him and the Trump family. Because, you know, Donald Trump may leave office in January, but he's not going anywhere. And this is someone who is going to remain hugely influential in the Republican Party for years to come, presumably.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Garrett Graff. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with journalist Garrett Graff about his two latest articles in Politico Magazine. They're about norms President Trump may break in the days remaining in his presidency and what he may do after leaving the White House.

If Trump wants to remain a powerbroker after his presidency, what are some of the ways he can do that?

GRAFF: Well, one of the things, Terry, that is important to understand is just how thoroughly Donald Trump has remade the Republican Party in the four or five years that he has been its leader. You know, there's a lot of, I think, speculation out there that the Republican Party, the moment Donald Trump leaves office, is going to pretend that Donald Trump never happened and that it's going to sort of snap back to this, you know, Republican ideal of, you know, some sort of, you know, George W. Bush compassionate conservatism kind of model.

And that's just really unlikely to happen because what Donald Trump has done over the last five years is basically push out of the Republican Party, the very people who would be the moderate Bush-style conservatives in a previous era. You know, if you look at Capitol Hill, less than half of the representatives and senators who started as Republican congressmen and women in January 2017 will still be in office in January 2021, when the 117th Congress convenes.

And so the people who are left in this party are the Trump purists at this point. And so Donald Trump is going to, you know, be walking away from the White House having won more Republican votes, more votes than any person in American history prior to this election. I mean, 70 million Americans went out and voted for him on Election Day. And that's an enormous amount of power and influence he's going to continue to hold over the Republican Party in the years ahead, even if he decides not to run in 2024.

GROSS: So President Trump might remain a power broker after he leaves office. He might end up facing criminal charges. He might face insurmountable debt. He might exploit the system for his own good. He might, you know, make a lot of money on a Trump theme park (laughter). I mean, there's so many extremes that are possible in the next few years for him.

GRAFF: Yeah. And one thing that I think is worth talking about that we haven't mentioned so far is the extent to which Donald Trump, in sort of his recklessness and his willingness to coddle authoritarian regimes around the rest of the world, remains and could create sort of new national security risks for the United States going forward.

That sort of you could imagine, for instance, Donald Trump coddling and cozying up with authoritarians like Turkey's Erdogan or Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, you know, as he opens and does business deals or hotel deals or hospitality deals around the rest of the world and sort of creating himself as sort of an alternate universe of U.S. foreign policy power, where, you know, he could show up courtside for a basketball game in Pyongyang, like Dennis Rodman, and say, you know, hey, you know, Kim Jong Un won't meet with Joe Biden, but he'll meet with me - and trying to undermine the Biden administration and American government on the world stage.

He is walking out of the White House having, you know, literally trillions of dollars of national security secrets at his fingertips as president - you know, things about surveillance capabilities, things about intelligence assets, things about the details of military weapons. And all of that would be information that any foreign power, you know, allies or adversaries alike, would be interested in knowing. And you could see Donald Trump, you know, potentially trying to weaponize or profit off of that information as a former president in a way that America is totally unprepared for.

I mean, we have this tradition of former presidents really leaving the stage when they leave office, and there's no sign and no reason to believe that Donald Trump will leave the stage willingly at any point.

GROSS: Well, Garrett Graff, you've given us a lot to think about (laughter). Thank you so much for talking with us.

GRAFF: Terry, it's always a pleasure.

GROSS: Garrett Graff's articles about what Trump might do in the remaining days of his presidency and what he might do after leaving the White House are published in Politico Magazine.

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed - like our interview with soccer star and LGBTQ activist Megan Rapinoe, who's written a new memoir; or with Harold McGee, who's famous for his books on the science of cooking and has a new book about why things smell the way they do and how that explains why foods taste the way they do - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

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52:30

Democracy Is 'Strained' But Not 'Broken,' Former President Obama Tells 'Fresh Air'

In his first interview with Terry Gross, Obama talks about what he misses most about being president and reflects on the turmoil of the Trump White House. Obama's new memoir is 'A Promised Land.'

20:56

'Alex Rider' Novelist On The Joys Of Reading (And Writing) Mysteries

Anthony Horowitz's novels about a reluctant teen spy have been adapted into a TV series for IMDB TV. Horowitz is also the author of Moonflower Murders, a mystery for adults.

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