President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of imposing martial law to overturn the election with Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, The New York Times has reported.
According to The Times, the President asked Flynn to expand on the idea at a White House meeting on Friday (US time). The meeting was the latest surreal twist in Trump's relentless - and so far unsuccessful - attempt to reverse his defeat by Joe Biden.
Trump quickly dismissed reports of the meeting on social media. "Martial law = Fake News. Just more knowingly bad reporting!" he wrote.
Still refusing to accept his loss, Trump has called for a massive rally in Washington DC on January 6, the day when both houses of Congress meet to formally confirm Joe Biden's election.
On Twitter, the President wrote: "Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election. Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"
Flynn, who was pardoned by Trump after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI during its investigation into Russian election interference in 2016, has emerged as one of the most outspoken supporters of the claim that Biden's victory was "rigged".
Undeterred by court after court rejecting legal bids to overturn Trump's defeat and the Electoral College confirming Biden's victory, Flynn proposed more drastic measures on the conservative political website Newsmax.
Trump should plan for every eventuality, Flynn said, "because we cannot allow this election and the integrity of our elections to go away". He also suggested Trump send troops into the swing states which he lost in November.
"[Trump] could take military capabilities and he could place him in those states, and basically rerun an election in each of those states."
The tone of the meeting will ring alarm bells in the US, even if the ideas seem outlandish. Rudy Giuliani, who acted as Trump's legal adviser, attended the meeting by phone. He is understood to have pressed the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines.
According to sources cited by The New York Times, the meeting was rowdy, with Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, forcefully rejecting the ideas being floated.
Also attending the meeting was Sidney Powell, a lawyer whose outlandish claims about the election - including suggesting that Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez rigged the US election from the grave - led to her being dropped by the Trump legal team.
Apparently back in the Trump fold, she was considered as a potential special counsel tasked with investigating the fraud allegations.
The next stage in the election timetable is when the House and Senate hold a joint session to count the electoral votes.
Any objection to the count is doomed to fail since both chambers of Congress would need to sustain the objection by a majority vote, and Democrats control the House of Representatives.
McConnell, the Republican Senate Leader, privately asked his colleagues not to make an objection, saying they would have to vote it down and it would be "terrible", according to the people familiar with the meeting.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas said any such effort by his own party would be a mistake.
"I think there comes a time when you have to realise that, despite your best efforts, you've been unsuccessful," Cornyn told reporters, saying he hopes anyone entertaining the idea of an objection would understand that it "would be futile and it's unnecessary".
- additional reporting: AP