As members of Congress hid from the insurrectionists who had invaded the Capitol on 6 January, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer reportedly told a Democratic congresswoman that he believed then-President Donald Trump had wanted that day’s violent confrontation to happen.
According to Peril, the forthcoming book on the end of Mr Trump’s presidency by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa – a copy of which was obtained by The Independent – Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin reached out to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley by phone as she and many of her colleagues hid out in their Capitol Hill offices. The congresswoman stressed the importance of getting National Guard forces to the complex to push back the pro-Trump horde.
In response, Mr Milley assured Ms Slotkin that help was on the way, and told her that he had purposefully bypassed Mr Trump directly, but had told then-Vice President Mike Pence of plans to send in the Guard.
After Ms Slotkin praised his decision to keep Mr Trump out of the loop, Gen Milley noted that Mr Trump had approved the use of National Guard soldiers to support Washington DC police officers in the days leading up to the riot. But he then added that he thought Mr Trump had desired and was enjoying the violent scene that was playing out.
“I think he wanted this. I think that he likes this. I think that he wants that chaos. He wants his supporters to be fighting to the bitter end,” Gen Milley said, according to the book, before adding: “I don’t know”.
The 63-year-old Army officer plays a central role in Mr Woodward and Mr Costa’s telling of the chaotic days between Mr Trump’s loss to then-former Vice President Joe Biden in early November 2020 and Mr Biden’s inauguration on 20 January.
In the book’s prologue, Gen Milley was reportedly so alarmed by intelligence reports which posited that Chinese authorities believed Mr Trump could order a nuclear strike to create a crisis by which he could keep himself in power, that he began a series of back-channel conversations with his Chinese counterpart in the days before the 3 November election.
Out of the same concern, he also reportedly convened a meeting with senior military officers to remind them of the proper procedures governing the release of nuclear weapons.
In a statement released by his political action committee, Mr Trump called the four-star general he had personally nominated as the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a “dumbass” and accused the decorated combat veteran of “treason” before accusing Mr Woodward and Mr Costa of working with the general to fabricate the story.
In response, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Colonel Dave Butler said in a statement on Wednesday that Gen Milley “regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia” and that such conversations “remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict”.
He added that Gen Milley “frequently conducts meetings with uniformed leaders across the Services to ensure all leaders are aware of current issues,” and said the “meeting regarding nuclear weapons protocols was to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject”.