The closing days of Donald Trump’s presidency were a rollercoaster for the top United States military officer as Trump and his allies attempted to stay in power after losing the 2020 election, according to a forthcoming book.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he watched then-President Trump relentlessly claim he had won the 2020 election and Milley compared Trump’s actions to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told his top aides, according to the book by two Washington Post reporters. “The gospel of the Fuhrer.”
In 1933 the German parliament Reichstag building went up in flames giving Hitler a pretext to consolidate his dictatorship.
The book “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker is based on interviews with more than 140 people, including senior Trump administration officials, according to the Washington Post.
The authors recount a series of episodes involving General Milley, who became increasingly concerned following Trump’s defeat in the November election, which Joe Biden had won by a count of 306 to 232 in the US Electoral College.
Milley told people he feared an American version of “brownshirts in the streets” after attending a briefing on a “million MAGA march” being planned by Trump. The Brownshirts were political, paramilitary agents who used violence and intimidation to support Hitler’s rise to power.
That same evening, according to a Washington Post report of the book, an old friend called Milley and warned him people close to Trump were attempting to “overturn the government”.
“What the f— am I dealing with?” Milley responded.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley (right) took steps to prevent a military coup attempt he feared at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to a forthcoming book [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
The events of January 6 when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol still roil American politics as Trump continues to hold broad sway over Republican voters and the party. Democrats in the US House have formed a special committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. That committee is due to hold its first public meeting as soon as next week.
Trump, who still claims the 2020 election was stolen, on Thursday issued a statement saying he had “lost respect for Milley” and “never threatened or spoke about to anyone a coup”.
“Never during my administration did Milley display what he is showing now,” Trump’s statement said.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walking near President Donald Trump towards St. John’s Church, in Washington, US on June 1, 2020 [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]
In the closing days of the presidency, Trump was seeking to install loyalists at the FBI, CIA and the Defense Department.
Milley took the warning signs seriously and began quietly planning with other Pentagon leaders how they would block any attempt by Trump to use the military to stay in power.
“They may try, but they’re not going to f—ing succeed,” Milley told his deputies, according to the book.
Members of Congress and some Trump administration officials also worried at the time that Trump would try to use the military to stay in power. Milley offered reassurances.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Milley advised, 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.”
Milley confronted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in December at an Army-Navy collegiate American football game attended by Trump.
“What the hell is going on here? What are you guys doing?” Milley asked Meadows.
A former Republican congressman who joined the Trump White House in March 2020, Meadows was far more political than his predecessor at the White House, John Kelly, who had been a former military officer.
“Don’t worry about it,” Meadows offered Milley, according to the book.
“Just be careful,” Milley warned Meadows, who had been a staunch defender of Trump during his impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Security failures led to Capitol breach
After the January 6 riot by Trump supporters at the US Capitol – in which thousands of people stormed Congress and disrupted the official count of the Electoral College certifying Biden’s win – National Guard troops were called in to secure the Capitol.
At a meeting of military and top law enforcement officials to plan security for Biden’s upcoming inauguration on January 20, Milley told the group: “We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.”