Was The U.S. Top Military Brass Prepared To Execute Trump If His Coup Started Succeeding?
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After reading an advance copy of the Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker book, I Alone Can Fox It-- due out Tuesday-- New York Magazine writer Ben Jacobs reported that "General Mark Milley, appointed by Trump chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, likened Trump's effort to hold on to power after the 2020 election to Adolf Hitler, saying the president was preaching 'the gospel of the Führer' with his lies about the election being stolen... Trump had led the country to the brink of its own 'Reichstag moment,' viewing him as a potential threat to American democracy." How far was Milley-- and the Pentagon-- willing to go to stop Trump?
Although the book chronicles Milley’s concern with Trump dating back to that moment, the general’s worries grew rapidly as the president plunged the nation into chaos following Election Day. Seven days later, Milley got a call from “an old friend” with an explicit warning that Trump and his allies were trying to “overturn the government.” Milley was confident that any attempts by Trump to hold on to power would be thwarted, because the military wouldn’t go along. “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed,” he told aides. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with guns.”
Still, Milley was disturbed by the sight of Trump supporters rallying to his cause in November, calling them “Brownshirts in the streets.” Leonnig and Rucker wrote that Milley “believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.” The general likened the U.S. to Germany’s fragile Weimar Republic in the early 1930s. “This is a Reichstag moment,” he said, referring to the arson attack on Germany’s Parliament that Hitler used as a pretext to assume absolute power and destroy democracy.
On January 6, Milley watched with disgust as Trump addressed his supporters. Soon after Trump finished speaking, a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the presidential election by a joint session of Congress-- and many promised to return for Biden’s inauguration. “These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II,” Milley said a week after the attack on the Capitol.
CNN reported that "The book recounts how for the first time in modern US history the nation's top military officer, whose role is to advise the president, was preparing for a showdown with the commander in chief because he feared a coup attempt after Trump lost the November election. The authors explain Milley's growing concerns that personnel moves that put Trump acolytes in positions of power at the Pentagon after the November 2020 election, including the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the resignation of Attorney General William Barr, were the sign of something sinister to come. Milley spoke to friends, lawmakers and colleagues about the threat of a coup, and the Joint Chiefs chairman felt he had to be 'on guard' for what might come... In the days leading up to January 6, Leonnig and Rucker write, Milley was worried about Trump's call to action. '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.' Milley viewed Trump as 'the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,' the authors write, and he saw parallels between Adolf Hitler's rhetoric as a victim and savior and Trump's false claims of election fraud."
Rucker and Leonnig interviewed more than 140 sources for the book, though most were given anonymity to speak candidly to reconstruct events and dialogue. Milley is quoted extensively and comes off in a positive light as someone who tried to keep democracy alive because he believed it was on the brink of collapse after receiving a warning one week after the election from an old friend.
"What they are trying to do here is overturn the government," said the friend, who is not named, according to the authors. "This is all real, man. You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff."
...Leonnig and Rucker also recount a scene where Pompeo visited Milley at home in the weeks before the election, and the two had a heart-to-heart conversation sitting at the general's table. Pompeo is quoted as saying, "You know the crazies are taking over," according to people familiar with the conversation.
The authors write that Pompeo, through a person close to him, denied making the comments attributed to him and said they were not reflective of his views.
In recent weeks Trump has attacked Milley, who is still the Joint Chiefs chairman in the Biden administration, after he testified to Congress about January 6.
...The book reveals Pelosi's private conversations with Milley during this tenuous period. When Trump fired Esper in November, Pelosi was one of several lawmakers who called Milley. "We are all trusting you," she said. "Remember your oath."
After the January 6 insurrection, Pelosi told the general she was deeply concerned that a "crazy," "dangerous" and "maniac" Trump might use nuclear weapons during his final days in office.
"Ma'am, I guarantee you these processes are very good," Milley reassured her. "There's not going to be an accidental firing of nuclear weapons."
"How can you guarantee me?" Pelosi asked.
"Ma'am, there's a process," he said. "We will only follow legal orders. We'll only do things that are legal, ethical, and moral."
Writing for the Washington Post yesterday, Reis Thebault noted that Milley "saw himself as one of the last empowered defenders of democracy during some of the darkest days in the country’s recent history [and]... had pledged to use his office to ensure a free and fair election with no military involvement. But he became increasingly concerned in the days following the November contest, making multiple references to the onset of 20th-century fascism... He began informally planning with other military leaders, strategizing how they would block Trump’s order to use the military in a way they deemed dangerous or illegal."
In the weeks that followed, Milley played reassuring soothsayer to a string of concerned members of Congress and administration officials who shared his worries about Trump attempting to use the military to stay in office.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” he told them, according to the book. “We’re going to have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to land this plane safely. This is America. It’s strong. The institutions are bending, but it won’t break.”
In December, with rumors circulating that the president was preparing to fire then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and replace her with Trump loyalist Kash Patel, Milley sought to intervene, the book says. He confronted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the annual Army-Navy football game, which Trump and other high-profile guests attended.
“What the hell is going on here?” Milley asked Meadows, according to the book’s account. “What are you guys doing?”
When Meadows responded, “Don’t worry about it,” Milley shot him a warning: “Just be careful.”