Trump campaign charts uncertain path forward as tensions bubble up
Posted November 9, 2020 1:52 p.m. EST
CNN — President Donald Trump's campaign team huddled in their Virginia headquarters on Monday to discuss their ongoing efforts to contest the election results but tension remains high as the staff faces an uncertain future.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien was annoyed that a fake Washington Times front page bearing the apparent headline "PRESIDENT GORE" was plastered all over the office, according to a source with knowledge. The paper references Democrat Al Gore's narrow loss in the 2000 election, the results of which were tied up for several weeks in court. Communications Director Tim Murtaugh had tweeted it out over the weekend, but deleted the image after the Times said it was doctored and they never ran that headline.
Nonetheless, dozens of copies of the fake headline were plastered on the walls, much to Stepien's irritation.
Stepien and his deputy, Justin Clark, told aides during Monday's meeting that Trump is "still in this fight" while claiming the election isn't over yet -- two days after a wave of world leaders and even a handful of elected Republicans acknowledged Trump's loss by congratulating his newly chosen successor. Attorneys in the Virginia campaign offices were on hand for the all-staff gathering.
Campaign staff are officially employed until November 15 and have so far gotten no signal that their contracts will be extended despite the campaign's fundraising for a legal battle.
"They're saying, 'Stay in the fight!' " one campaign source told CNN. "Hard for people to stay in the fight when they'll be unemployed a week from today."
This source also said that campaign leadership noted the lackluster attendance at Monday's staff meeting, which was announced with just 15 minutes' notice.
With the uncertain prospect of continued employment with the campaign, many staffers are on the hunt for a new job. That, too, is getting some in trouble.
Soon after the staff meeting, campaign manager Stepien's assistant shouted at a campaign staffer for printing their resume in the office.
While Trump himself has remained largely out of view since President-elect Joe Biden pulled far enough ahead in the vote count to secure a victory -- emerging from the White House only to play rounds of golf over the weekend -- some of his closest advisers have agitated publicly and privately for a two-front political and legal war over how ballots were handled in several decisive battleground states.
Trump has promoted baseless claims about problems with the results as his campaign team has scrambled to pull together a piecemeal legal strategy that courts have so far treated with almost uniform skepticism.
Read more: CNN's 2020 election results
The chaotic nature of their election fight was on full display Saturday when Trump hyped a last-minute news conference from Rudy Giuliani and others at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia just hours before Biden was projected as the winner -- only to correct himself soon after that the press conference would actually be in the parking lot of the similarly named Four Seasons Total Landscaping company. Giuliani stood in the parking lot of the business as the race was called for Biden and ranted about dead people casting ballots, providing no evidence.
Campaign aides have weighed a path forward that could involve anything from rallies to a surrogate messaging blitz aimed at amplifying the President's unsupported allegations of voter fraud. The strategy could offer the additional benefit of buying Trump's lawyers time to advance their litigation, people familiar with the plan told CNN.
Ultimately, however, Trump's legal challenges have virtually no chance of changing the verdict delivered by voters. Biden pulled ahead over the weekend in a number of key states Trump won in 2016 and had hoped to hold onto this cycle, including Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia.
Although Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, approached the President on Saturday about the prospect of conceding to Biden, the campaign has since worked to project the sense that all aides to the President are united in their desire to see him continue with his fight against the results.