U.S. President Donald Trump and General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, speak at the 119th Army-Navy Football Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 8, 2018.
Jim Young | Reuters
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 to 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 tenure 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 lengthy, insulting statement attacking Milley on a variety of complaints that he had “never threatened or discussed a coup on 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 President’s June 2020 photo op at St. John’s Church in Washington, which was preceded by police violently evacuating protesters in Lafayette Square.
“I saw at that moment that he had neither courage nor skill, especially not the kind of person I would talk to about ‘coups’,” said Trump, adding: “I am 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 takeover of the government.
“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 Germany in the 20th century, the book says.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley said to 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 falsely attempted 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 widespread fraud rigged the election, few of the lawsuits attempted to bring that argument to an actual judge. None of the lawsuits could undo Biden’s victory in key states.
Trump’s defiance, combined with the late installation of loyalists in top government positions, raised high-level Pentagon officials to fears 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 Insurrection Act 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 January 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 will 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 won’t come in, “Milley said, according to the book.