President Donald Trump appeared to acknowledge losing the US election but then backtracked and said he concedes "nothing" while a top aide to President-elect Joe Biden called a seamless transition vital for national security and combating the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, due to take office on 20 January, defeated Trump in the 3 November election by winning a series of battleground states that the Republican incumbent had won in 2016. The Democratic former vice president also won the national popular vote by at least 5.5 million votes, or 3.6 percentage points, with some ballots still being counted.
Trump, who is pursuing long-shot litigation contesting election results in several states, made conflicting statements in a series of Twitter posts in which he initially appeared to admit for the first time publicly that Biden won, then reversed course. Trump also repeated unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.
"He won because the Election was Rigged," Trump wrote, not referring to Biden by name. "NO VOTE WATCHERS OR OBSERVERS allowed, vote tabulated by a Radical Left privately owned company, Dominion, with a bad reputation & bum equipment that couldn't even qualify for Texas (which I won by a lot!), the Fake & Silent Media, & more!"
About 90 minutes later, Trump wrote, "He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!"
"WE WILL WIN!" he added.
Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press programme, Biden's pick for White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, said, "Donald Trump's Twitter feed doesn't make Joe Biden president or not president. The American people did that."
The decision by the General Services Administration, headed by a Trump appointee, not to recognize Biden as president-elect has prevented Biden and his team from gaining access to government office space and funding normally afforded to an incoming administration to ensure a smooth transition.
Klain called on the agency to formally recognize Biden, saying it is critical to ensure that the president-elect receives intelligence briefings describing national security threats before taking office and to facilitate coordination with the White House coronavirus task force.
"Joe Biden is going to become president of the US in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition," Klain said.
Klain also urged Congress to pass bipartisan coronavirus relief legislation. Talks on such legislation stalled before the election. Democratic congressional leaders last week called upon Republican lawmakers to join them in passing a relief measure before the end of the year.
"This could be a first example of bipartisan action post-election," Klain said. Klain added that Biden's team plans to meet with Pfizer Inc and other drugmakers starting this week regarding Covid-19 vaccines. Klain previously said a smooth transition is necessary to ensure the government is prepared to roll out a vaccine early next year.
Tackling the pandemic will be a paramount priority for Biden, with the United States tallying record numbers of Covid-19 cases in recent days. More than 245,000 Americans have died of Covid-19.
Speaking on CNN's State of the Union programme, Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, also urged speedy transition efforts to help confront the pandemic.
Trump's campaign has filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the results in multiple states, though without success. Legal experts have said the litigation stands little chance of altering the election's outcome.
Election officials of both parties have said there is no evidence of major irregularities. Democrats and other critics have accused Trump of trying to delegitimize Biden's victory and undermine public confidence in the US electoral process. Before the election, Trump had refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of Biden's main challengers for the Democratic presidential nomination, criticized Trump's post-election conduct.
"Trump will have the distinction of doing more than any person in the history of this country in undermining American democracy. The idea that he continues to tell his supporters that the only reason he may have lost this election was because of fraud is an absolutely disgraceful, un-American thing to do," Sanders said on "State of the Union."
John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser turned critic, on Sunday called on Republicans to acknowledge Biden's victory. Bolton last week accused his fellow Republicans of "coddling" and "kowtowing" to Trump as the incumbent despite his defeat.
"I think it's very important for leaders of the Republican Party to explain to our voters, who are not as stupid as the Democrats think, that in fact Trump has lost the election and his claims of election fraud are baseless," Bolton said on ABC's This Week programme.
Biden has won 306 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College system that determines the presidential winner, according to Edison Research, far more than the 270 needed to secure a majority. States are in the process of certifying their election results. The Electoral College meets to formally vote for the new president on 14 December.