General Milley was ‘certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election,’ reporters write in Peril
General Milley took it upon himself, just two days after the 6 January Capitol riot, to limit Mr Trump’s ability to order a military strike.
Watergate journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, both of The Washington Post, report in their new book Peril that General Milley was thoroughly disturbed by the attack on the Capitol and that he “was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies”.
Mr Woodward and Mr Costa also write that Gen Milley was worried that Mr Trump may “go rogue,” CNN reported.
The book says Gen Milley told his top staffers: “You never know what a president’s trigger point is.”
The top military leader hosted a secret meeting in his office at the Pentagon on 8 January to review the process for initiating military action, including the launching of nuclear weapons.
Gen Milley told the officials in charge of the Pentagon’s war room – the National Military Command Center – not to follow any orders unless he was involved.
According to Peril, Gen Milley told the officials: “No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure.”
He then asked each of the officers to verbally confirm that they understood as he looked them in the eye.
“Got it?” Gen Milley asked.
“Yes, sir,” the officials responded. Gen Milley “considered it an oath,” the reporters write.
The book is based on more than 200 interviews with people participating firsthand in the covered events as well as witnesses, and depicts an unhinged Mr Trump yelling at his senior staff as he tries to stay in office.
Gen Milley grew worried as he observed Mr Trump’s erratic behaviour and became even more concerned about US national security following the events of 6 January. The top military leader had had two phone calls with China’s top general, who had become uneasy at the unrest in the United States.
The authors write that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Gen Milley during a tense phone call: “If they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?”
“You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time,” she added.
“Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything,” the general replied, according to Peril. After the call, Gen Milley told his service chiefs to watch everything “all the time”.
He then called the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Paul Nakasone.
“Needles up … keep watching, scan,” he told General Nakasone.
“Aggressively watch everything, 360,” General Milley told then-CIA Director Gina Haspel.
“Milley was overseeing the mobilization of America’s national security state without the knowledge of the American people or the rest of the world,” Mr Woodward and Mr Costa write. They add that “some might contend that Milley had overstepped his authority and taken extraordinary power for himself” but that the general thought that it was “a good faith precaution to ensure there was no historic rupture in the international order, no accidental war with China or others, and no use of nuclear weapons”.
After discovering that Mr Trump had signed a memo written by two of his allies instructing the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by 15 January 2021, without notifying anyone on the national security team, Gen Milley couldn’t forget that Mr Trump had gone over the heads of the military.
After the insurrection on 6 January, Gen Milley “felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions,” the authors write.
Gen Milley thought it was the “absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility”.
Mr Woodward and Mr Costa write that Mr Trump might start a conflict with the US or abroad to distract the nation and the world from his election loss to President Joe Biden.
Following Mr Trump’s refusal to concede the election in November of 2020, Director Haspel told Gen Milley: “We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum.” She was also worried that Mr Trump might take action to attack Iran.
“This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?” she asked Gen Milley.
Some Trump allies also expressed their worries about Mr Trump after his loss to Mr Biden.
Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Gen Milley that Mr Trump was “in a very dark place right now”.
Gen Milley was singlemindedly focused on ensuring a peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration on 20 January.
“We’ve got a plane with four engines and three of them are out. We’ve got no landing gear. But we’re going to land this plane and we’re going to land it safely,” he told Mr Pompeo.
On the day after the election, 4 November 2020, Mr Trump asked adviser Kellyanne Conway: “How the hell did we lose the vote to Joe Biden?”
He seemed to accept that he had lost, but later became engrossed in election conspiracy theories after phone calls with allies such as Rudy Giuliani.
“The problem is this stuff about the voting machines is just bulls**t,” then-Attorney General Bill Barr told Mr Trump, according to Peril. “Your team is a bunch of clowns.”
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon left the administration in August 2017 and was indicted in April 2020, but was later pardoned by Mr Trump. Mr Bannon once again became a prominent figure in the days leading up to the Capitol riot on 6 January. He convinced Mr Trump on 30 December to return to the White House from Mar-a-Lago to prepare for 6 January, the day that Congress was going to certify Mr Biden’s electoral college victory.
“You’ve got to return to Washington and make a dramatic return today,” Mr Bannon said, according to the book. “You’ve got to call Pence off the f***ing ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis.”
Mr Bannon said it was “the moment for reckoning”.
“People are going to go, ‘What the f**k is going on here?’” he said. “We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, f***ing bury him.”
As Mr Trump and Mr Pence spoke in the Oval Office on 5 January, Trump supporters could be heard cheering in the streets outside, as the president pressured his deputy to overturn the results of the election.
“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Mr Trump asked.
“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Mr Pence said.
“But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” Mr Trump asked.
“No,” Mr Pence said, adding: “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”
When Mr Pence didn’t buckle under the pressure, Mr Trump shouted “no, no, no!” according to the authors. “You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”
Mr Trump called Mr Pence on the morning of 6 January.
“If you don’t do it, I picked the wrong man four years ago,” Mr Trump said, according to Peril. “You’re going to wimp out,” Mr Trump said. His anger was obvious to others in the room.
Mr Pence reached out to Dan Quayle, vice president to George HW Bush, to ask if there was anything he could do several times over.
“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Mr Quayle said.
“You don’t know the position I’m in,” Mr Pence said.
“I do know the position you’re in,” Mr Quayle replied. “I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power.”