Donald Trump

Top U.S. Gen. Mark Milley Feared Trump Would Attempt a Coup After His Loss to Biden, New Book Says

Jim Young | Reuters
  • Former President Donald Trump denied ever considering or discussing any plan to carry out a coup to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.
  • Trump lashed out at top-ranking Gen. Mark Milley, who reportedly feared in the wake of the 2020 election that Trump or his allies might attempt a military coup to stay in power, a new book says.
  • "If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley," Trump said in the statement.
  • Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began informally strategizing about how to guard against such a move by Trump or those around him, the book says.

Top-ranking Army Gen. Mark Milley feared in the wake of the 2020 election that then-President Donald Trump or his allies might attempt a military coup to stay in power, according to a new book from two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters.

Trump on Thursday denied discussing staging a coup to stay in power – but added that if he were to stage a coup, he wouldn't want to do it with Milley.

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began informally strategizing in the final months of Trump's one term in office about how to guard against such an attempt by Trump or those around him, according to "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year," which comes out next week.

But Trump, in a lengthy, insult-laden statement lashing out at Milley over a variety of grievances, said he "never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government."

"If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley," Trump said in the statement, which was sent through his political action committee.

Trump blasted Milley for apologizing after participating in the president's June 2020 photo-op at St. John's Church in Washington, which was preceded by police forcefully clearing protesters in Lafayette Square.

"I saw at that moment he had no courage or skill, certainly not the type of person I would be talking 'coup' with," Trump's statement said, before adding, "I'm not into coups!"

A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

The book from Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker portrays Milley seeing himself in the final months of Trump's presidency as one of the few remaining officials in the crumbling administration still defending military and executive-branch institutions.

"They may try, but they're not going to f------ succeed," Milley said of a possible government takeover in conversation with his closest deputies, according to the book.

"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," he said.

The general, having listened to Trump spread an array of baseless conspiracy theories and false claims of fraud throughout the final weeks of his term, had drawn parallels with the rise of nazism in 20th century Germany, the book said.

"This is a Reichstag moment," Milley told aides in early January, according to the book. "The gospel of the Fuhrer."

The journalists say the book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 sources, most of whom agreed to speak candidly on the condition of anonymity. The authors say they also interviewed Trump on the record for 2½ hours.

Leonnig and Rucker describe Milley as being shaken after a Nov. 10 phone call with an old friend, who warned him, "What they're trying to do here is overturn the government."

"This is all real, man. You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff," the friend told Milley, who later shared the exchange with his aides, the book says.

Milley then reached out to former Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor from 2017 to 2018. "What the f--- am I dealing with?" Milley asked, according to the book.

"You're dealing with some of the weirdest s--- ever," McMaster reportedly replied.

Trump refused to concede the 2020 race to now-President Joe Biden. He falsely tried to claim victory on Nov. 4, even as vote tallies were still pouring in. In the weeks after the election, Trump and his allies filed dozens of lawsuits to try to reverse the outcome of the race.

While Trump and his surrogates vocally asserted that widespread fraud had rigged the election, few of the lawsuits attempted to make that argument to an actual judge. None of the lawsuits succeeded in reversing Biden's win in key states.

Trump's defiance, combined with the late-hour installation of loyalists at top roles in the government, had top Pentagon officials concerned that the president could be persuaded to take "rash military action," the book says. The Pentagon brass contemplated actions "such as launching a missile strike, withdrawing U.S. forces precipitously from Afghanistan, or even deploying troops in some way related to the election dispute," according to the book.

Ahead of Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress was scheduled to confirm Biden's victory, Milley reportedly expressed concern about how Trump was promoting a campaign rally-style event nearby.

"Milley told his staff that he believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military," the book says.

On Jan. 6, a mob of Trump's supporters, many of whom had gathered for the president's fiery speech outside the White House, invaded the Capitol, vandalizing the halls of government and forcing a joint session of Congress into hiding.

After the deadly invasion, Milley stressed that "come hell or high water, there will be a peaceful transfer of power on January twentieth," one senior official said in the book. "We've got an aircraft, our landing gear is stuck, we've got one engine, and we're out of fuel. We've got to land this bad boy."

Milley, leading a Jan. 14 military drill in advance of Biden's inauguration, reportedly said, "Here's the deal, guys: These guys are Nazis, they're Boogaloo Boys, they're Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II."

"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. We're going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren't getting in," Milley said, according to the book.

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