New book: Joint Chiefs chairman Milley feared a Trump coup after election

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The book, from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, describes how Milley and the other Joint Chiefs discussed a plan to resign, one-by-one, rather than carry out orders from Trump that they considered to be illegal, dangerous or ill-advised.

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.

“They may try, but they’re not going to f**king succeed,” Milley told his deputies, according to the authors. “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.”

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.

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book. “The gospel of the Führer.”

Ahead of a November pro-Trump “Million MAGA March” to protest the election results, Milley told aides he feared it “could be the modern American equivalent of ‘brownshirts in the streets,'” referring to the pro-Nazi militia that fueled Hitler’s rise to power.

‘This is all real, man’

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.”

Milley’s reputation took a major hit in June 2020, when he joined Trump during his controversial photo-op at St. John’s Church, after federal forces violently dispersed a peaceful crowd of social justice protesters at Lafayette Square outside the White House. To make matters worse, Milley wore camouflage military fatigues throughout the incident. He later apologized, saying, “I should not have been there.”
Mark Milley testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 4, 2020.
But behind the scenes, the book says Milley was on the frontlines of trying to protect the country, including an episode where he tried to stop Trump from firing FBI Director Chris Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel.

Leonnig and Rucker recount a scene when Milley was with Trump and his top aides in a suite at the Army-Navy football game in December, and publicly confronted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

“What’s going on? Are you guys getting rid of Wray or Gina?” Milley asked. “Come on chief. What the hell is going on here? What are you guys doing?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Meadows said. “Just some personnel moves.”

“Just be careful,” Milley responded, which Leonnig and Rucker write was said as a warning that he was watching.

‘That doesn’t make any sense’

The book also sheds new light on Trump’s descent into a dark and isolated vacuum of conspiracy theories and self-serving delusions after he was declared the loser of the 2020 election.

After the January 6 insurrection, the book says Milley held a conference call each day with Meadows and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Leonnig and Rucker report the officials used the calls to compare notes and “collectively survey the horizon for trouble.”

“The general theme of these calls was, come hell or high water, there will be a peaceful transfer of power on January twentieth,” one senior official told the authors. “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.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony for retired four-star Army general Jack Keane in the East Room of the White House March 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Milley told aides he saw the calls as an opportunity to keep tabs on Trump, the authors write.

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…



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