Top CEOs met to plan response to Trump's election denial

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks at the White House, in Washington. Although only a few of America's CEOs have made public statements about President Trump's refusal to accept his election loss, many are worried about it in private. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Only a few of America's CEOs have made public statements about President Donald Trump's refusal to accept his election loss, but in private, many are alarmed and talking about what collective action would be necessary if they see an imminent threat to democracy.

On Nov. 6, more than two dozen CEOs of major U.S. corporations took part in a video conference to discuss what to do if Trump refuses to leave office or takes other steps to stay in power beyond the scheduled Jan. 20 inauguration of former Vice President Joe Biden. On Saturday Biden was declared the election winner by The Associated Press and other news organizations.

During the conference, which lasted more than an hour, the CEOs agreed that Trump had the right to pursue legal challenges alleging voter fraud.

But if Trump tries to undo the legal process or disrupts a peaceful transition to Biden, the CEOs discussed making public statements and pressuring GOP legislators in their states who may try to redirect Electoral College votes from Biden to Trump, said Yale Management Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who convened the meeting.

“They're all fine with him taking an appeal to the court, to a judicial process. They didn't want to deny him that. But that doesn't stop the transition,” said Sonnenfeld. “They said if that makes people feel better, it doesn’t hurt anything to let that grind through.”

On Saturday, the day after the video meeting, the Business Roundtable, a group that represents the most powerful companies in America, including Walmart, Apple, Starbucks and General Electric, put out a statement congratulating Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. It largely reflected the conversation from Friday's video meeting, saying the group respects Trump’s right to seek recounts and call for investigations where evidence exists.

“There is no indication that any of these would change the outcome,” the group's statement said.

The executives who participated in the video conference are from Fortune 500 finance, retail, media and manufacturing companies, Sonnenfeld said. He wouldn't identify them because they attended the meeting with the condition that their names be kept confidential. But in an interview with CNBC, he identified Disney Executive Chairman Robert Iger, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky as attending.