Joint Chiefs chairman feared Trump was laying groundwork for coup

WASHINGTON – The highest-ranking U.S. officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and other top military leaders made informal plans to stop a coup by former President Donald Trump and his allies in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, according to excerpts from a new book

“I Alone Can Fix It,” written by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, describes how Milley and others feared Trump might take unconstitutional actions should he lose. CNN first reported on this excerpt.

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, including how and when to resign in protest over his actions.

“They may try, but they're not going to f****** succeed,” Milley told his officers, according to Leonnig and Rucker. “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.”

Milley's spokesman, Army Col. Dave Butler, declined Thursday to comment on the excerpts.

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President Donald Trump holds a briefing with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley in the Cabinet Room of the White House in October 2019.

President Donald Trump holds a briefing with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley in the Cabinet Room of the White House in October 2019.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – an advisory body to the president – was planning for a confrontation with Trump over what Milley saw as the former president's stoking of tensions in an attempt to lay the groundwork for a coup.

In August: Top general says military will have no role in November's election

The 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.

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told his deputies in the days before Jan. 6, a reference to the 1933 burning of the German parliament that helped usher in the Nazi regime in Germany, Leonnig and Rucker write. “The gospel of the Führer.”

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Trump responds: ‘I'm not into coups'

Trump denied the reports. .

“I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government. So ridiculous! Sorry to inform you, 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,” Trump wrote in a statement released by his private office Thursday.

Trump also said Milley is “certainly not the type of person I would be talking ‘coup' with. I’m not into coups!”

Before 2020 election, military sought distance from it

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.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Milley wrote in August 2020, responding to questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee. “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 declarations came after Milley had spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats, who had sought assurances the military would not intervene should Trump call for unconstitutional orders to interfere with the election or attempt a coup.

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joint Chiefs chairman Milley feared Trump coup over election loss

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