On Election Night, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, received an unsettling phone call, followed by another warning after Donald Trump removed his secretary of defense a few days later.
Milley received a message from a fellow four-star general and a close friend shortly after the polls closed, reminding him that “your loyalty is to the Constitution” and that he represented the “stability of this republic,” and then-defense secretary Mike Esper issued his own dire warnings — until he was fired six days later, according to the new book “I Alone Can Fix It,” excerpted by Newsweek.
“We are on the way to a right-wing coup,” CIA director Gina Haspel told Milley after Esper’s ouster.
Milley and Haspel believed they would be next on the chopping block, as the firing was organized by a political appointee in the White House office of personnel, whose purge of anyone judged insufficiently loyal to Trump have escalated since the election.
“In the ‘tank,’ the military-only chamber famous for deliberations and private discussion, the seven joint chiefs, plus Milley and the vice-chairman, quietly and privately began talking about what their options would be if they had to block an unlawful order from the commander-in-chief,” Newsweek reported, based on the book. “According to a retired general officer who spoke to one of the participants, in the tank the discussions were frank and emotional. ‘They grappled with wide-ranging questions,’ the senior officer said. ‘Not just how to protect the republic should Trump threaten, but also ways to protect the military institution, a goal that didn’t always easily mesh with what needed to get done.’”
Milley gave a public speech on Veterans Day 2020, expressing his concerns and reminding active-duty troops that they did not “take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator” or any individual, but behind the scenes, the remaining heads of the military and national security apparatus took steps to prevent the White House from corrupting their services and agencies.
“What was unfolding, though, was unique among coups,” Newsweek reported, based on the book. “Nobody really thought the disorganized and isolated Trump was capable of organizing anything. And the president didn’t have the support of the military or the CIA or the FBI, or any of the other national security agencies, perhaps, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which had become embarrassingly partisan. Milley even remarked privately that a coup wasn’t possible because his camp had all the guns — a comment that was both comforting and chilling, one that showed how perilous the post-election period had become.”
In some ways, the military staged a coup in response to the sitting president’s unlawful attempts to undermine the democratic will of the people.
“Ultimately, the uniformed military and other permanent national security professionals did take it upon themselves to decide how to defend the nation from this prospective coup, disregarding the new secretary and the other Trump cronies filling leadership positions in the Pentagon,” the magazine added. “[Newly installed acting defense secretary Chris] Miller was ignored except in cases where the Secretary of Defense’s approval or signature was required. Flouting the hallowed tradition of civilian control of the military that is at the core of the Constitution, and ignoring the commander-in-chief, Milley set the uniformed military as a bulwark against disaster.”