News Agent of chaos: How Donald Trump could wreak havoc in the dying days of his presidency

Agent of chaos: How Donald Trump could wreak havoc in the dying days of his presidency

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Joe Biden may be the 46th president of the United States, but Donald Trump remains in office until January 20.

In the dying days of the Trump presidency, political pundits are warning that things could get weird.

In one last chaotic push Mr Trump could gift himself legal immunity, fire leading officials he doesn’t like, and worst-case scenario, launch a nuclear war.

It’s unlikely that Mr Trump will vacate the office in a quiet, dignified manner, and what he does with his last remaining days in office is already raising concerns.

US election analyst and Australian National University professor Wesley Widmaier told The New Daily President Trump could do three major things to disrupt his final days in office: Pardon himself or his friends, stop COVID-19 rescue packages, and use his position as commander-in-chief to escalate international tensions.

Firstly, what he can do is pardon anyone, including himself, for federal crimes,” Professor Widmaier said. 

Mr Trump has previously asserted on Twitter that he has the “absolute right to PARDON myself.”

What Donald Trump might do in his last days of office has raised concerns. Photo: Getty

Mr Trump could also pre-emptively pardon his allies who appear to be under federal investigation, including Rudy Giuliani, Professor Widmaier said.

“He’ll probably pardon Rudy Giuliani if he’s under indictment. It’s a pre-emptive pardon … and they can be broad,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time – both Bill Clinton and George HW Bush caused controversies by issuing pardons in the last days before they left office, Professor Widmaier explained.

“There is supposed to be a process, but both Clinton and Bush got in trouble for pardoning people,” he said.

Mr Clinton was prolific – to the point where nearly one-third of all presidential pardons he granted were handed down on his final day in office.

The affair became known as ‘pardongate’.

President Bush Sr also courted controversy – taking the unpopular decision to pardon six officials behind the Iran-Contra affair – a political scandal from the Reagan era where the government illegally sold firearms to Iran and used the money to fund a right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua.

Military strikes

In theory, Mr Trump could use his last days in office to launch a military strike, including full-scale nuclear war, or covert actions against other countries.

Although presidents have traditionally put international escalations on ice for the next administration to deal with, it has not been altogether unprecedented, Professor Widmaier said.

“A good example of this going bad is with George HW Bush in Somalia. He ramped up his administration’s commitment to what they thought was a humanitarian crisis and it ended up going wrong – a year later it turned into a civil war,” he said.

Joe Biden is the president-elect, but a difficult transition period lies ahead . Photo: Getty

Months later, when two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and 18 Americans were killed in the crash and ensuing firefights, there was international condemnation of the US intervention.

“That’s the kind of thing that can happen in lame duck sessions,” Professor Widmaier said.

However, while “the president is the commander in chief” that “doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want”, he said.

“People can drag their feet.”

For instance, President Richard Nixon’s defence secretary gave orders that if Mr Nixon wanted to launch an attack in his last days of office it needed to be checked with him, Professor Widmaier explained.

“They can say ‘yes, we’ll launch this attack but first we need to check if you’ve ordered the right tyres on the tanks’, for example.”


And lastly, a spiteful Mr Trump could hamper the nation’s ability to manage the pandemic by blocking economic support bills, Professor Widmaier said.

“Beyond that, there’s talk of a COVID rescue package. Maybe out of spite he wouldn’t sign it,” he said.

Mr Biden’s team will already be inheriting a pandemic crisis, and if Mr Trump chooses to spend his last days watching Fox News and tweeting, it will set them back further, Professor Widmaier said.

“They do need him to sign bills, in terms of COVID packages. So he could hamstring Biden’s administration.”