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White House uncertainty grows over Trump post-election actions

Officials around the Trump administration are sending mixed signals privately about support for President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE's refusal to concede the election to Joe BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE.

Republicans and some of the president's family members have publicly entertained the president's unproven claims that widespread voter fraud is to blame for his deficit in key swing states such as Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

But inside the White House, there is more uncertainty about the benefits of Trump’s ongoing fight.

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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters MORE epitomized the rhetoric coming from Trump's most ardent defenders when he told reporters Tuesday that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”

But Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsConcerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US MORE (D-Del.) said a number of Republicans have asked him to privately extend their congratulations to Biden, an acknowledgment that their public declarations are more intended to appease Trump and avoid upsetting his supporters.

The West Wing is emptier than usual as chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBiden's no-drama White House chief Ex-Trump aide Meadows pushed DOJ to probe multiple election theories: report Trump working with Gingrich on policy agenda: report MORE and a few other staffers recover from COVID-19, and some in the administration have started to circulate their resumes.

A former White House official said Trump’s decision to challenge the results would likely be futile and potentially inflict “lasting damage” to the Republican Party’s brand in the long term, though the person acknowledged that if evidence of fraud were ultimately discovered it could prove instructive for future elections.

Even aspects of the campaign operation appear to be setting up for life after Trump in the White House.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) announced layoffs this week in a move that typically reflects the end of an election cycle, and the Trump campaign said the president plans to form a leadership political action committee that would allow him to retain influence in the GOP after he leaves office.

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The contrast between what is being said publicly by Trump’s supporters and what is being discussed privately among some in the administration sets up a tenuous situation that experts and some lawmakers worry could inflict long-term damage to the country, even if Trump eventually acknowledges his defeat.

“Our enemies don’t stop plodding against us because the outgoing White House refuses to recognize a peaceful transition,” said Chris Whipple, who authored a book on White House chiefs of staff and has written a new book, "The Spymasters," on the CIA. “Transitions are critical and they can be dangerous periods. I just don’t think that we have the luxury of letting Donald Trump go through this for very much longer.”

Surrogates have thus far failed to support Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the election that undergird his refusal to concede, and it appears highly unlikely that the Trump campaign’s legal challenges would change the results of the election even if they were successful. Legal experts said a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania on Monday seeking to halt the certification of results was unlikely to succeed, and other lawsuits have been dismissed. 

Another former White House official argued that it had only been a week since Election Day and that Trump was entitled to more time to let his campaign’s legal challenges play out, noting Democratic presidential nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreOvernight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Al Gore lobbied Biden to not scale back climate plans in infrastructure deal MORE did not technically concede his loss for weeks after Election Day in 2000.

Biden senior legal counsel Bob Bauer described the suits as “noise” and “theatrics” during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

Sources close to the administration believe it will ultimately fall to a close adviser of member of Trump’s family — Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpMichael Cohen predicts Trump will turn on family after revelation of criminal probe Eric Trump buys .2M home near father's golf club in Florida Melinda Gates tapped divorce lawyers in 2019 after Epstein links to husband: report MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Israel-Hamas ceasefire is holding — what's next? Eric Trump buys .2M home near father's golf club in Florida CDC's about-face on masks appears politically motivated to help a struggling Biden MORE, Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJill Biden, Kate Middleton visit school together in first meeting Jill Biden wears 'LOVE' jacket 'to bring unity' to meeting with Boris Johnson White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality MORE or Meadows — to level with Trump and get him to accept the election results.

In the meantime, the formal transition process has ground to a halt.

Multiple federal agencies have indicated they will not begin cooperating with Biden officials as part of the transition process until the General Services Administration certifies the Democrat as president-elect. 

As of Tuesday, the Trump administration still had not signed off on paperwork giving Biden and his team access to federal funds and physical space for the transition process. 

Biden insisted Tuesday that the move has not impacted his team’s ability to plan for taking over. 

“I’m confident that the fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do between now and Jan. 20,” Biden said during a press appearance in Delaware.

Former administration officials say that the circumstances would create disadvantages for Biden’s team, though it would not preclude the incoming administration to execute planning on its own with private resources. 

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Anita McBride, a former chief of staff for first lady Laura Bush who was privy to the 2000 transition that was delayed due to contested results in Florida, noted that many individuals who are likely to serve in Biden’s administration have prior government experience that will likely benefit them in the transition period. 

“They know the score, they know how to get things done, they know how to get things organized,” McBride said. “They are probably at less of a disadvantage than someone coming into the government for the first time.”