Senior Army General Mark Milley feared after the 2020 election that then-President Donald Trump or his allies might attempt a military coup to stay in power, according to a new book by two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters.
Trump on Thursday denied discussing staging a coup in order to stay in power – but added that he would not want to do it with Milley if he were to orchestrate a coup.
Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began informally developing strategies in the last few months of Trump’s term of office on how to protect yourself from such an attempt by Trump or his fellow man, “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trumps disastrous last year, ”coming out next week.
But Trump said in a long, insulting statement in which he attacked Milley over a variety of complaints that he had “never threatened or discussed a coup in our government.”
“If I wanted to do a coup, one of the last people I want to do it with would be General Mark Milley,” Trump said in the statement sent through his political action committee.
Trump beat up Milley for the apology after attending the June 2020 President’s photo op at St. John’s Church in Washington, which police preceded to forcibly evict protesters in Lafayette Square.
“I saw at that moment that he had neither courage nor skill, certainly not the kind of person I would talk to about ‘coups’,” said Trump, adding, “I’m not into coups!”
A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker portrays Milley, who in the final months of Trump’s presidency sees himself as one of the few remaining officials in the crumbling government defending military and executive institutions.
“You can try, but you will not succeed,” said Milley, according to the book, in an interview with his closest deputies about a possible government takeover.
“You can’t do that without the military. You can’t do that without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns, ”he said.
The general, who listened to Trump, who had spread a number of baseless conspiracy theories and false claims about fraud in the last few weeks of his tenure, drew parallels with the rise of Nazism in 20th century Germany, the book says.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told his helpers in early January, according to the book. “The Gospel of the Leader.”
Journalists say the book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 sources, most of whom have agreed to speak openly on condition of anonymity. The authors say they also interviewed Trump for 2½ hours on record.
Leonnig and Rucker describe Milley as shaken after a phone call to an old friend on November 10 who warned him: “What they are trying to do here is overthrow the government.”
“This is all real, man. You’re one of the few guys standing between us and some really bad things,” the friend said to Milley, who later shared the exchange with his aide, the book says.
Milley then reached out to former General HR McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor from 2017 to 2018. “What the hell am I up to?” Milley asked according to the book.
“You’re up against some of the weirdest S — ever,” McMaster reportedly replied.
Trump refused to let current President Joe Biden run the 2020 race. He mistakenly tried to claim victory on November 4th, despite the number of votes still coming in. In the weeks following the election, Trump and his allies filed dozens of lawsuits to reverse the outcome of the race.
While Trump and his deputies loudly claimed that the election was rigged by widespread fraud, few of the lawsuits attempted to bring that argument to an actual judge. None of the lawsuits reversed Biden’s victory in key states.
Trump’s defiance, combined with the late-night appointment of loyalists to top government positions, caused high-ranking Pentagon officials to fear that the president could be persuaded to take “hasty military action,” the book says. Pentagon leaders were considering actions “like launching a missile attack, precipitating US forces from Afghanistan, or even sending troops in any way related to the election,” the book says.
Prior to Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress was scheduled to confirm Biden’s victory, Milley reportedly raised concerns about how Trump is promoting a campaign-style event nearby.
“Milley told his staff that he believed Trump was stirring up unrest, possibly hoping for an excuse to invoke the insurgency law and call the military,” the book reads.
On January 6, a mob of Trump supporters, many of whom had gathered for the President’s fiery White House speech, broke into the Capitol, demolished the government halls and forced a joint session of Congress to go into hiding.
Following the deadly invasion, Milley insisted that “whether hell or flood, there will be a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20,” a senior official said in the book. “We have an airplane, our landing gear is stuck, we have an engine and we are out of fuel. We have to land this bad boy.”
Milley, who led a military exercise prior to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 14, allegedly said, “Here’s the deal, guys: these guys are Nazis, they are Boogaloo Boys, they are Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. “
“Everyone in this room, whether they are policemen or soldiers, we are going to stop these guys to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to put a ring of steel around “this town and the Nazis are not coming in,” Milley said according to the book.