Washington – President Donald Trump has yet to admit defeat in the U.S. election. But with a word here, a slip there, he is raising the prospect ever more plainly.
In a tweet Sunday morning, Trump appeared accidentally to acknowledge Joe Biden's victory — before quickly reversing course to claim he won, and again push unsubstantiated claims of mass electoral fraud.
"He won because the Election was Rigged," Trump tweeted.
The first two words — coming days after a verbal slip in which Trump said "time will tell" if he remains president — were immediately seized upon as one more step toward a concession.
But the president soon made a U-turn, tweeting: "He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go."
President-elect Biden captured 306 Electoral College votes in the Nov. 3 election — 36 more than needed to win the White House, and the exact number Trump deemed a "landslide" when he won in 2016.
Senior federal and state election authorities, including a top cybersecurity agency and 16 federal prosecutors assigned to monitor the elections, have rejected claims of widespread election tampering.
Still, Trump continues to insist he will prove fraud and prevail in court.
Meantime, the leaders of nearly every country in the world have congratulated Biden on his victory, reinforcing the notion that almost no one — in the United States or elsewhere — is taking the Trump legal challenges seriously.
Those challenges have been nearly universally dismissed by judges as unfounded.
Reacting to Trump's tweet, Biden's newly named chief of staff Ron Klain told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it was "further confirmation of the reality that Joe Biden won the election."
"If the president's prepared to begin to recognize that reality, that's positive," he said.
Biden himself was meeting Sunday in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, with his transition advisers, his spokespeople said.
Some Trump administration officials say privately that they understand that Biden won, but that the president needs time to "process" his loss.
Others, on the outside, speculate Trump may be trying to galvanize his base to back some future commercial or media endeavor or even to support a new run for office in 2024.
Until now, the president has refused to cooperate in the shift to a Biden administration — denying the Democrat both federal funding for transition work and vital briefings by outgoing officials.
Democrats say this could have a damaging impact both on national security and on the grave and mounting challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Joe Biden's going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis," said Klain. "That has to be a seamless transition."
For now, he said, Biden and his team are not even allowed to consult with someone like top government immunologist Anthony Fauci.
"Of course it would be better" if such talks could begin, Fauci told CNN on Sunday, noting that the virus could kill tens of thousands more Americans by the time Biden takes office on Jan. 20. "That is obvious."
Former President Barack Obama told CBS's "Sunday Morning" that Trump's delay in acknowledging Biden's victory comes at a price.
"There's damage to this," Obama said, adding that millions of people would believe there was fraud — because the president said so — in a development corrosive to democracy.
Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator who had sought the Democratic nomination, called Trump's refusal to concede based on unsupported claims of fraud "an absolutely disgraceful, un-American thing."
"I would just hope to God he has the decency in him to man up and say, 'You know what? We fought hard, we lost the election, good luck to Joe Biden,'" Sanders told CNN.
A small but growing number of Republican figures have begun pressing for Trump to concede.
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine told CNN that Biden "certainly" was the president-elect, adding, "For the country's sake, it's important for a normal transition to start."
And former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, a critic of the president since leaving the administration, told CNN it was crucial for more Republicans to persuade Trump that he had lost in a fair election.
Bolton added: "I don't expect him to go graciously. I do expect him to go."
More than 10,000 Trump supporters rallied in Washington on Saturday to back his claims of fraud — massing in Washington's Freedom Plaza before marching to the Supreme Court in a raucous atmosphere.
After dark, skirmishes erupted as Trump supporters and counter-protesters clashed on the streets, scuffling and throwing punches.
At least 20 people were arrested, reports said, including four for firearm violations and one for assault on a police officer.
Trump himself made a drive-past of the rally in his armored motorcade, on his way to play golf, smiling through his limousine window to wild cheers.
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