Former President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary broadside against the general he named to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denying a new book’s reports that a “coup” was being discussed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and saying he would not have wanted Gen. Mark A. Milley at his side if he had been planning one.
While Gen. Milley remained mum on the swirling controversy sparked by the latest investigative book on the final days of Mr. Trump‘s presidency, Mr. Trump lashed out at the general, criticizing his comments regretting his actions the day Mr. Trump stood at a Washington church holding a Bible and the general’s backing for changing the name of military posts named for Confederate generals and Southern Civil War figures.
“Sorry to inform you, but an Election is my form of ‘coup,’” the former president said in a scathing statement released Thursday, “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.”
Mr. Trump said he only elevated the Army general to the post “because the world’s most overrated general, [then-Defense Secretary] James Mattis, could not stand him, had no respect for him, and would not recommend him. To me the fact that Mattis didn’t like him, just like Obama didn’t like him and actually fired Milley, was a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Mr. Trump also attacked the general’s expressed regrets over his presence as Mr. Trump walked to St. John’s Church near the White House last summer, in the face of tense street protests over racial justice.
Gen. Milley “apologized profusely, making it a big story, instead of saying ‘I am proud to walk with and protect the President of the United States.’ Had he said that, it would have all been over, no big deal, but I saw at that moment he had no courage or skill, certainly not the type of person I would be talking ‘coup’ with. I’m not into coups!”
The ex-president was responding to accounts of the soon-to-be-published “I Alone Can Fix It” by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Leaked excerpts from the book do not say that Mr. Trump and Gen. Milley discussed a coup to block what Mr. Trump saw as a stolen election, but that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs expressed rising alarm to current and former government officials that Mr. Trump and his supporters were not preparing for a peaceful transition of power.
At points, the authors contend, Gen. Milley privately compared Mr. Trump and his backers to Nazi “brownshirts” who enabled Adolf Hitler’s rise and discussed how to keep the military and security agencies from being co-opted into Mr. Trump‘s challenge to the vote.
It was Mr. Trump‘s second public attack on the general in recent days. He said Gen. Milley should resign last month after reports leaked of a heated conversation between the two men in the Situation Room last year over the military’s role in dealing with heated and sometimes violent protests in American cities over racial injustice and police brutality.
Mr. Trump nominated Gen. Milley in December 2018 to replace retiring Gen. Joseph Dunford as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Pentagon. “He’s a great gentleman, he’s a great patriot, he’s a great soldier. And I look forward to [his confirmation],” Mr. Trump said at the time.
On Thursday, Gen. Milley was in Norfolk talking of NATO and new strains on the international order. He stayed far away from the new book’s revelations and did not mention Mr. Trump or the post-election tensions.
The address in Norfolk announcing the full operational capability of NATO’s newest combat command was Gen. Milley‘s first public remarks since the revelations were aired this week.
But his remarks Thursday focused tightly on the new Navy-focused Joint Forces Command-Norfolk, the sole NATO joint command located on U.S. soil.
“It’s the mission of this command to fight the Battle of the Atlantic in the event of an armed conflict,” Gen. Milley said. “The survival of NATO — success or failure in combat in a future war in Europe — largely depends on the success or failure of this command.”
The U.S. and its NATO allies should keep the focus on the future and adapt to new technologies of war, such as precision munitions and artificial intelligence, Gen. Milley said.
“The challenge is going to be in the not-too-distant future. We have to modernize,” he said.