"If I was going to do a coup ...": Trump offers bizarre denial of report his generals feared a coup

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley reportedly feared Trump would try to pull off a post-election coup

By Jon Skolnik
Published July 15, 2021 2:57PM (EDT)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley was reportedly so concerned Donald Trump might mount a violent coup against his own election loss last year that Milley discussed informal plans to put Trump down with several generals. 

The revelation, described in a forthcoming book obtained by CNN, details a number of exchanges between Milley and his colleagues in which they all weighed their own resignations over concerns that Trump's orders could be dangerous and/or illegal. 

Milley, the book describes, was reportedly "on guard" for whatever uprising might take place ahead of Biden's inauguration, fearing that Trump's grandiose and baseless theory of election fraud might fuel "a Reichstag moment."

"They may try, but they're not going to f------ succeed," Milley told his deputies. "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."  

At one point, the general called Trump's Big Lie "the gospel of the Fuhrer." 

Ahead of November's "Million MAGA March" – where thousands of Trump supporters gathered in D.C. to protest the results of the 2020 election – Milley apparently told his aides that the demonstration "could be the modern American equivalent of 'brownshirts in the streets.'"

Milley was specifically worried that the former was intentionally inciting violence as a pretense for invoking the Insurrection Act, which could have unilaterally allowed Trump to deploy the military to forcibly stop the election certification process on January 6. 

Trump, the general said in private, "the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose."

The latest exchanges were detailed in the upcoming book, "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year," by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, who said they interviewed 140 anonymous sources for insider knowledge into Trump's presidency, not to mention Trump himself. 

The book largely portrays Milley as one of the lone defenders of institutional democracy during the final months of the former administration, saddled with doubts and anxieties despite his breadth of experience. 

"This is all real, man," an old friend of Milley's told the general. "You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff."

At one point, Milley allegedly called up former Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor, for words of advice. "What the f--- am I dealing with?" Milley asked.

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

Following the insurrection on January 6, the book alleges, Milley, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all held a conference call to ensure there would be no more tumult during the transition period.

"The general theme of these calls was, come hell or high water, there will be a peaceful transfer of power on January twentieth," a senior official told the book's authors. "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."

In response to the revelations, Trump put out a lengthy statement on Thursday claiming that he "never threatened" or "spoke about" a coup. 

"Sorry to inform you," the former president expressed, "but an Election is my form of 'coup,' and if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley."

Last summer, Milley was castigated for walking alongside Trump during his notorious photo-op at St. John's Church. It was on Trump's way to this photo-op that protesters were forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square by police using chemical irritants, rubber bullets, and shields. (It has since been disputed by the inspector general of the Interior Department that protesters were cleared to make way for Trump.)

More recently, Milley has been subject to scorn from the right over his support of teaching critical race theory to servicemembers. Their scorn comes amid allegations that white supremacy and far-right extremism is rife within the ranks.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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