Trump could flee the country if he loses the election — and continue sowing political chaos. Here's how

Trump could flee the country if he loses the election — and continue sowing political chaos. Here's how
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during a COVID-19 Coronavirus update, Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Is President Donald Trump a flight risk if he loses the election? According to the president himself: "Maybe."

Trump pondered the possibility of leaving the U.S. after an election loss during a campaign rally in Georgia, and a retired Army general examined that unprecedented situation from a military intelligence standpoint in a new column for Politico.

"Setting aside for the moment his conduct as president, Trump faces a financial and legal reckoning of immense proportions as soon as he leaves office," wrote retired Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack. "If he loses, he will no longer have protection from an avalanche of charges and lawsuits against him, his family and the Trump Organization. His years of alleged tax evasion will be officially scrutinized—and far more publicly than before he held office. He will no longer be able to claim (falsely) that his taxes are still 'under audit' and unavailable. Trump properties and investments could be frozen, seized or plummet in value. The true nature of his extraordinary personal financial debt — recently reported as $421 million — will be exposed, and his likely foreign creditors revealed."

Trump's personality and longstanding habits suggest that he would not be willing to face a serious challenge to his self image and freedom from accountability, Zwack argued, and that makes him a candidate to join other recent world leaders who've fled legal problems after losing power.

"There is nothing in this president's demeanor, past or present, to suggest that he has the fortitude or integrity to face auditors, prosecutors, or anyone else who challenges him, particularly if the outcome is likely to involve public humiliation and loss of assets, prestige and power," Zwack wrote. "The option of salvaging what he can by relocating to a jurisdiction beyond the reach of U.S. laws would not be a stretch for someone who has long been openly disdainful of our tax and legal systems."

Zwack speculates that Trump could arrange a "stealth departure" during the transition period if he loses badly, possibly by slipping his Secret Service detail and refusing to return home while on an overseas trip, but the retired general fears a "chilling alternative" of a close election where the president flees to another country.

"Hunkered down in a foreign country willing to provide sanctuary, he could conceivably style himself a 'president in exile' and incite his die-hard American followers to resist the election results," Zwack wrote. "A degree of domestic upheaval and dangerous division would linger for an extended period until the new administration is able to foster calm and unity."

"If all this sounds like a B-grade spy novel, it should," he added. "The flight of a U.S. president would be unprecedented, unsettling and profoundly disappointing. As a minimum, a presidential defection would temporarily absorb the resources and attention of a wide range of U.S. defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In more than two centuries of peaceful transfers of presidential power, nothing remotely conceivable like it has ever happened."

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