Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, listens during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 17, 2021.
Caroline Brehman | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Top-ranking U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley feared in the wake of the 2020 election that then-President Donald Trump or his allies might attempt a military coup to stay in power, according to reporting in a new book.
Milley, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time and still holds the title, began informally strategizing about how to guard against such a move by Trump or those around him, the book says.
“They may try, but they’re not going to f—— succeed,” Milley told his closest deputies, according to the book. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.”
The general, having listened to Trump spread an array of baseless conspiracy theories and false claims of fraud throughout the final weeks of his term, had drawn parallels with the rise of fascism in 20th Century Germany, the book said.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides in early January, according to the book. “The gospel of the Fuhrer.”
The account of Milley’s post-election concerns and actions was reported by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker in their new book “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,” which comes out next week.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists say the book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 sources, most of whom agreed to speak candidly on the condition of anonymity. The authors say they also interviewed Trump on the record for two-and-a-half hours.
The book portrays Milley seeing himself in the final months of Trump’s presidency as one of the few remaining officials in the crumbling administration still defending military and executive-branch institutions.
Leonnig and Rucker describe Milley as being shaken after a Nov. 10 phone call with an old friend, who warned him, “What they’re trying to do here is overturn the government.”
“This is all real, man. You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff,” the friend told Milley, who later shared the exchange with his aides, the book says.
Milley then reached out to H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former national security advisor. “What the f— am I dealing with?” Milley asked, according to the book.
“You’re dealing with some of the weirdest s— ever,” McMaster reportedly replied.
Trump had refused to concede the 2020 race to now-President Joe Biden. He falsely tried to claim victory on Nov. 4, even as vote tallies were still pouring in. In the weeks after the election, Trump and his allies filed dozens of lawsuits to try to reverse the outcome of the race.
While Trump and his surrogates vocally asserted that widespread fraud had rigged the election, few of the lawsuits attempted to make that argument to an actual judge. None of the lawsuits succeeded in reversing Biden’s win in key states.
Trump’s defiance, combined with the late-hour installation of loyalists at top roles in the government, had top Pentagon officials concerned that the president could be convinced to take “rash military action,” the book says. The Pentagon brass contemplated actions “such as launching a missile strike, withdrawing U.S. forces precipitously from Afghanistan, or even deploying troops in some way related to the election dispute,” according to the book.
In the lead-up to Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress was scheduled to gather to confirm Biden’s victory, Milley reportedly expressed concern about how Trump was promoting a campaign rally-style event nearby.
“Milley told his staff that he believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military,” the book says.
On Jan. 6, a mob of Trump’s supporters, many of whom had gathered for the president’s fiery speech outside the White House, invaded the Capitol, vandalizing the halls of government and forcing a joint session of Congress into hiding.
After the deadly invasion, Milley stressed that “come hell or high water, there will be a peaceful transfer of power on January twentieth,” one senior official said in the book. “We’ve got an aircraft, our landing gear is stuck, we’ve got one engine, and we’re out of fuel. We’ve got to land this bad boy.”
Milley, leading a Jan. 14 military drill in advance of Biden’s inauguration, reportedly said, “Here’s the deal, guys: These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II.”
“Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop, whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in,” Milley said, according to the book.