Previously released excerpts from a new book by Washington Post reporters indicated tension between members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Trump White House. However, additional material released on Wednesday night by CNN takes this to a new and terrifying level. According to Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, senior military officers were so concerned that Donald Trump might drag the military into a coup, that they developed a plan to resign, one by one, rather than accept an order to take part in such a plot.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley appears to have been particularly concerned about the idea he might simply refuse to leave office, and that in his final days in power, Trump would use the military to carry out his schemes. Milley, who took part in Trump’s Bible-waving stroll across Lafayette Square, was disturbed at how Trump inserted sycophants into key roles at the Pentagon following the election and saw this as a sign of an upcoming attempt to maintain power at the point of a gun.
According to the authors, Milley grew so concerned that he discussed the possibility not just with his friends, but with other generals and with members of Congress. "They may try, but they're not going to f**king succeed," Milley told his staff. "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."
The book also indicates that Milley had specific concerns about Jan. 6. Trump’s calls for supporters to come to D.C. for a “wild” event, and intelligence showing that militia members were planning to attend in numbers, left Milley fretting Trump was deliberately “stoking unrest” and that he was trying to create an incident that would justify the use of the Insurrection Act along with military force.
“This is a Reichstag moment.”
Seeing Trump as a “classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” Milley became convinced he’d seen this story before. With Trump calling for a “Million MAGA March” following his loss in November, Milley feared it “could be the modern American equivalent of 'brownshirts in the streets.” In addition to referencing incidents in which Nazis had used violence to bring Adolf Hitler to power, Milley supposedly referenced the incident that Hitler had staged, then leveraged as a means of using violence against his enemies. "This is a Reichstag moment. The gospel of the Führer."
One of MIlley’s colleagues, quoted anonymously, confirmed to him that “this is all real” and warned the general "What they are trying to do here is overturn the government. ... You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff."
The revelations out of the book show a last minute scramble at the White House, with Trump clutching at every conspiracy theory and working to put in place those who might go along with a scheme to defy the outcome of the election. According to the authors, Milley was instrumental in preventing Trump from replacing FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, with Milley regarding both of those positions as pivotal to the success or failure of any coup.
According to the book, Trump’s spiral into darkness was so severe that even Mike Pompeo came to Milley for a “heart to heart” talk in which he complained “you know the crazies are taking over.”
The incidents described in the book go beyond disturbing. They describe a nation well beyond the brink, with a White House actively working to position assets for an end of democracy and military leadership developing a pushback that was not at all certain of success. The revelations are terrifying enough that “shocking” seems an all-too-insubstantial term.
But there is one thing that isn’t completely clear. Though the article states that the book developed from over a hundred interviews conducted by Leonnig and Rucker, it doesn’t make clear when this information was known to them. If Washington Post reporters were aware in the final days of Trump’s occupation of the White House, that he was plotting to keep control of the nation, shouldn’t the nation have been made aware? And if there were reports that top military officials were convinced that Trump’s actions following the election were intended to generate violence, shouldn’t that information have been provided to case managers in Trump’s second impeachment?
There are a number of upcoming books on the final awful days of Trump, and the revelations will continue. But the first question these books need to answer is why are we just hearing about this now?