After attending a November 10 security briefing about the “Million MAGA March,” a pro-Trump rally protesting against the election result, Milley said he feared an American equivalent of ”brown shirts in the streets,” alluding to the paramilitary forces that protected Nazi rallies and enabled Hitler’s ascent.
Late that same evening, according to the book, an old friend called Milley to express concerns that those close to Trump were attempting to “overturn the government”.
“You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff,” the friend told Milley, according to an account relayed to his aides. Milley was shaken, Leonnig and Rucker write, and he called former national security adviser HR McMaster to ask whether a coup was actually imminent.
“What the f— am I dealing with?” Milley asked him.
The conversations put Milley on edge, and he began informally planning with other military leaders, strategising how they would block Trump’s order to use the military in any way they deemed dangerous or illegal.
If someone wanted to seize control, Milley thought, they would need to gain sway over the FBI, the CIA and the Defence Department, where Trump had already installed staunch allies. “They may try, but they’re not going to f—ing succeed,” he told some of his closest deputies, the book reports.
In the weeks that followed, Milley played reassuring soothsayer to a string of concerned members of Congress and administration officials who shared his worries about Trump attempting to use the military to stay in office.
“Everything’s going to be OK,” he told them, according to the book. “We’re going to have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to land this plane safely. This is America. It’s strong. The institutions are bending, but it won’t break.”
In December, with rumours circulating that the president was preparing to fire then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and replace her with Trump loyalist Kash Patel, Milley sought to intervene, the book says. He confronted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the annual Army-Navy football game, which Trump and other high-profile guests attended.
“What the hell is going on here?” Milley asked Meadows, according to the book’s account. “What are you guys doing?”
When Meadows responded, “Don’t worry about it,” Milley shot him a warning: “Just be careful.”
After the failed insurrection on January 6, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Milley to ask for his guarantee that Trump would not be able to launch a nuclear strike and start a war.
“This guy’s crazy,” Pelosi said of Trump in what the book reported was mostly a one-way phone call. “He’s dangerous. He’s a maniac.”
Once again, Milley sought to reassure: “Ma’am, I guarantee you that we have checks and balances in the system,” he told Pelosi.
Less than a week later, as military and law enforcement leaders planned for President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Milley said he was determined to avoid a repeat of the siege on the Capitol.
“Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop, whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power,” he told them. “We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.”
At Biden’s swearing-in on January 20, Milley was seated behind former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who asked the general how he was feeling.
“No one has a bigger smile today than I do,” Milley replied. “You can’t see it under my mask, but I do.”
The Washington Post
Get a note direct from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.