Late Friday, Axios published a report noting that senior administration officials are concerned that Donald Trump is "spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists." It wasn't meant to be funny, but the phrasing was extraordinary in its own right.
The way it was framed, senior officials take it as a given that the outgoing president will spent some time with crackpots -- the man is who he is -- but as Trump's term nears its end, the fear now is that he's spending "too much" time with crackpots.
Macabre humor notwithstanding, these concerns are clearly well founded. NBC News reported over the weekend:
President Donald Trump held a meeting at the White House on Friday evening in which he discussed naming appellate lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud in the election, a person familiar with the meeting confirmed to NBC News. Powell, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows took part in the meeting, as did retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was Trump's first national security adviser. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani participated by phone.
In case anyone's forgotten, Sidney Powell's conspiracy theories were considered so hysterically ridiculous that she was fired from Trump's "elite, strike force" legal team last month.
Four weeks later, Powell's work may be too bananas for the president's lawyers, but not for Trump himself, who both met with her on Friday and told his team he'd like to see her make more television appearances. (Powell was also reportedly back in the White House last night, pitching ideas about absurd executive orders the president could issue in pursuit of her bonkers ideas.)
As for the nature of Friday night's meeting, the New York Times described it as a "raucous" discussion in which Trump considered appointing Powell as a special counsel to chase anti-election conspiracy theories and broached the subject of an executive order that would seize control of voting machines.
Just as importantly, Michael Flynn last week raised the idea of the outgoing president imposing martial law on the United States and deploying the military to "re-run" the election. According to the Times' account of Friday's meeting, Trump "asked about that idea."
So, let's take stock. The outgoing president, still furious about losing, huddled in the White House with a lawyer whose crackpot ideas were too extreme for his other lawyers, as well as a disgraced former foreign agent who's open to the idea of martial law -- which Trump found interesting enough to warrant an inquiry.
By all accounts, none of these lines of discussion gained traction, thanks at least in part to pushback from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Donald Trump is less focused on exiting the Oval Office in 30 days and more focused on deranged scenarios that would allow him to stay in power.
And for people close to the outgoing president, Trump's desperation is increasingly the source of genuine anxiety. CNN reported on Friday, for example, on an insider who "described an escalating sense of concern among Trump's aides, even those who have weathered his previous controversies, about what steps he might take next as his term comes to an end." Axios reported the same day, "Senior Trump administration officials are increasingly alarmed that President Trump might unleash — and abuse — the power of government in an effort to overturn the clear result of the election."
A day later, the Washington Post added, "[O]fficials say privately they are worried about what might transpire in coming weeks, as the president becomes increasingly desperate."
Note, these aren't Democrats who are afraid of what Trump might do in his final weeks in office; these are Trump administration officials, many of whom are accustomed to the president's usual nonsense, but who fear what's next is qualitatively different.
Inauguration Day 2021 is 30 days away. Watch this space.