Top generals feared Trump coup attempt after election loss, according to new book

Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig, the Pulitzer-Prize winning reporters who authored the #1 New York Times bestseller, A Very Stable Genius, reveal a dysfunctional and bumbling presidency’s inner workings in unprecedented, stunning detail in a book about to be published by Penguin Press.

Focused on then-president Donald Trump and the key players around him—the doctors, generals, senior advisers, and Trump family members— I Alone Can Fix It provides a forensic account of the most devastating year in a presidency.

The authors say America’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, was so concerned that Trump and his allies might attempt a coup d’état after the November election that he and other Pentagon officials planned ways to stop dangerous and illegal measures.

Milley feared that Trump would abrogate the constitution to retain power in a move resembling Adolf Hitler’s 1933 Reichstag takeover. Hitler abolished democracy in a more or less legal fashion, by passing a special law that gave the Chancellor the power to pass laws by decree, without the involvement of the parliament, and nullified key civil liberties of German citizens.

The book describes how Milley and the other Joint Chiefs discussed a plan to resign, one-by-one, rather than carry out orders from Trump that they considered to be illegal, dangerous or ill-advised.

Their sources were in the room as time and time again Trump put his personal gain ahead of the good of the country.

The book recounts how for the first time in modern US history the nation’s top military officer, whose role is to advise the commander in chief, was preparing for a showdown with Trump, who he feared might attempt a coup after losing the November election.

The book cites also witnesses who describe Trump itching to deploy military force on the streets of American cities to crush the protest movement that erupted after the killing of George Floyd, all to bolster his image of strength ahead of the election.

They also saw firsthand his refusal to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously—even to the point of allowing himself and those around him to be infected.

This is a story of a nation sabotaged—economically, medically, and politically—by its own leader, culminating with a groundbreaking, minute-by-minute account of exactly what went on in the Capitol building on January 6, as Trump’s supporters so easily breached the most sacred halls of American democracy, and how the president reacted.

With unparalleled access, Rucker and Leonnig explain and expose exactly who enabled—and who foiled—Trump as he sought desperately to cling to power.

With speculation about a military coup swirling in the months before the election, top military leaders took the unprecedented step in August 2020 of clarifying that the military would have no role in the 2020 election, despite some speculation from Trump that military action would be necessary.

At that time, the president declared without evidence that the expected surge in mail-in ballots will make the vote “inaccurate and fraudulent,” and suggested he might not accept the election results.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Milley wrote in response to questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee, Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process.”

The authors explain Milley’s growing concerns that personnel moves that put Trump acolytes in positions of power at the Pentagon after the November 2020 election, including the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the resignation of Attorney General William Barr, were the sign of something sinister to come.

Milley spoke to friends, lawmakers and colleagues about the threat of a coup, and the Joint Chiefs chairman felt he had to be “on guard” for what might come.

The top brass was so disturbed by Trump’s rhetoric casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election before it was held that the leaders discussed contingency plans for how to thwart any illegal power grabs by the president

“They may try, but they’re not going to f**king succeed,” Milley told his deputies, according to the authors. “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.”

The military commanders’ alarm only increased after the election, when Trump and his allies contested the results and called on his supporters to oppose the legitimacy of the electoral process, often implying violence may be necessary.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former President Donald Trump, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley appear in this 2019 image

In the days leading up to January 6, Leonnig and Rucker write, Milley was worried about Trump’s call to action. “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.”

Milley viewed Trump as “the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” the authors write, and he saw parallels between Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric as a victim and savior and Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book. “The gospel of the Führer.”

Ahead of a November pro-Trump “Million MAGA March” to protest the election results, Milley told aides he feared it “could be the modern American equivalent of ‘brownshirts in the streets,'” referring to the pro-Nazi militia that fueled Hitler’s rise to power.

Leonnig is a national investigative reporter at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2000, covering Donald Trump’s presidency and previous administrations. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on security failures and misconduct inside the Secret Service.

Rucker is the senior Washington correspondent at The Washington Post and led its coverage of the Trump administration as White House Bureau chief. He and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award for their reporting on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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