For a brief period of time, control of the U.S.’s capacity to murder millions of people and destabilize the globe in the process was secretly taken out of Donald Trump’s hands by maneuver of the nation’s highest-ranking general—at least according to the two Bobs selling a new book about his presidency (Bob Woodward and Robert Costa).
According to CNN, Woodward and Costa write in their new book, Peril, that following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of furious MAGA goons, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark A. Milley became concerned that some kind of nuclear incident could be Trump’s last desperate grasp at power. By the book’s account, Milley “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,” and that the then-president could “go rogue.”
On Jan. 8, Milley allegedly held a secret meeting in his office in the Pentagon with senior officers from the National Military Command Center, a sort of command and communications war room that serves as the nerve center between civilian commanders (the president and secretary of defense) and military action. CNN wrote that Peril details a meeting in which the assembled officers were told in so many words to ignore any orders that didn’t involve him:
“No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure,” Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.
“Got it?” Milley asked, according to the book.
‘Milley considered it an oath,’ the authors write.
If true, this would obviously have presented somewhat of a barrier to Trump nuking Pyongyang or invading Iran or whatever other outrageous idea he might have had, under the assumption that a spicy new war might allow him to remain in power forever.
Peril also details that before the Pentagon meeting, Milley and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talked on the phone about the security of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Pelosi had similar concerns that Trump could nuke something on the way out, according to a transcript of the call obtained by Woodward and Costa.
“What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do?” Pelosi asked, the transcript reportedly shows. “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.”
“Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything,” Milley reportedly responded.
We can safely assume that by “they,” Pelosi was referring to “literally anyone.” Milley did, in fact, respond by calling up the next best thing, the heads of the U.S.’s two preeminent intelligence agencies, according to CNN’s recounting of the book:
After the call, Milley decided he had to act. He told his top service chiefs to watch everything “all the time.” He called the director of the National Security Agency, Paul Nakasone, and told him, “Needles up ... keep watching, scan.” And he told then-CIA Director Gina Haspel, “Aggressively watch everything, 360.”
The authors write, ‘Milley was overseeing the mobilization of America’s national security state without the knowledge of the American people or the rest of the world.’
Depending on who you ask, this is either an extraordinary move to protect the peaceful transition of power from a deranged presidency, an astonishing violation of the principle of civilian control over the military, or just the kind of trumped-up anecdote that might rehabilitate someone’s reputation after they, say, were part of a photo op with Trump that involved brutally assaulting hundreds of peaceful protesters. Your guess is as good as ours!
The subject of Trump’s fingers on the nuclear button (actually, a very long chain of buttons) was a continual source of unease throughout his presidency. Which is understandable, because this is a guy who allegedly thought that nuking hurricanes might be a good idea. In 2017, then-Strategic Command chief and Air Force General John Hyten, the guy in charge of launching nukes, reassured attendees at a security forum that he wasn’t “stupid” and would refuse to “execute an unlawful order” from Trump.
CNN’s summary of the juiciest bits of Peril include anecdotes about former CIA Director Gina Haspel warning Milley of a “right-wing coup,” as well as speculating Trump could attack Iran, and the return of bloated corpse and ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to Trump’s orbit to help orchestrate the MAGA rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riots. There are also more details regarding how Trump spent the day of the riots watching events unfold on TV while ignoring exhortations from ex-Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser, retired General Keith Kellogg, to intervene.
The Washington Post picked up additional anecdotes about Milley reportedly having to reassure the head of China’s People’s Liberation Army, General Li Zuocheng, that the U.S. government “is stable and everything is going to be okay,” without any “kinetic operations against you.”
The book also reportedly claims that when then-Vice President Mike Pence refused to use his ceremonial role in the congressional certification of the 2020 election results as a way to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, an angry Trump asked him, “But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” After Pence explained it was impossible, Trump told him, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”
Damn! Fake friends, y’all. SMDH.