Milley worried that Trump could ‘go rogue,’ the authors write.
“You never know what a president’s trigger point is,” Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.
In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon’s war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.
“No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure,” Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.
“Got it?” Milley asked, according to the book.
‘Milley considered it an oath,’ the authors write.
Woodward and Costa obtained documents, calendars, diaries, emails, meeting notes, transcripts and other records.
‘You know he’s crazy’
Milley’s fear was based on his own observations of Trump’s erratic behavior. His concern was magnified by the events of January 6 and the ‘extraordinary risk’ the situation posed to US national security, the authors write. Milley had already had two back-channel phone calls with China’s top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the US.
Pelosi pushed back.
“What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?”
Pelosi continued, “You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.”
According to Woodward and Costa, Milley responded, “Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.”
After the call, Milley decided he had to act. He told his top service chiefs to watch everything “all the time.” He called the director of the National Security Agency, Paul Nakasone, and told him, “Needles up … keep watching, scan.” And he told then-CIA Director Gina Haspel, “Aggressively watch everything, 360.”
The authors write, ‘Milley was overseeing the mobilization of America’s national security state without the knowledge of the American people or the rest of the world.’
Woodward and Costa also write that ‘some might contend that Milley had overstepped his authority and taken extraordinary power for himself,’ but he believed his actions were ‘a good faith precaution to ensure there was no historic rupture in the international order, no accidental war with China or others, and no use of nuclear weapons.’
Trump going rogue
Milley’s fear that Trump could do something unpredictable came from experience. Right after Trump lost the election, Milley discovered the President had signed a military order to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021, before he left the White House.
Woodward and Costa write that after January 6, Milley ‘felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions.’
Milley called it the ‘absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility,’ the authors write.
‘Wag the Dog’
Woodward and Costa write that top national security officials were worried Trump might pull a “Wag the Dog” — provoking a conflict domestically or abroad to distract from his crushing election loss.
“This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?” she asked Milley, according to the book.
Even some of Trump’s most loyal advisers privately expressed concern after the election. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Milley that Trump was “in a very dark place right now.”
Milley had just one goal: ensuring a peaceful transfer of power on January 20. As he told Pompeo, “We’ve got a plane with four engines and three of them are out. We’ve got no landing gear. But we’re going to land this plane and we’re going to land it safely.”
‘We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th’
“Peril” offers a behind-the-scenes account of Trump’s refusal to concede the election and how those around him tried — and failed — to contain his desperation.
“Your team is a bunch of clowns,” he told Trump.
On December 30, Bannon convinced Trump to come back to the White House from Mar-a-Lago to prepare for the events of January 6, the date Congress would certify the election results.
The authors write that Bannon told Trump that January 6 was “the moment for reckoning.”
“People are going to go, ‘What the fuck is going on here?’ ” Bannon believed. “We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, fucking bury him,” Bannon said.
Trump to Pence: ‘I don’t want to be your friend anymore’
“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.
“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.
“But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” Trump asked, according to Woodward and Costa.
“No,” Pence said. He went on, “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”
When Pence did not budge, Trump turned on him.
“No, no, no!” Trump shouted, according to the authors. “You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”
Trump called Pence again the morning of January 6. “If you don’t do it, I picked the wrong man four years ago,” Trump said, according to the authors. “You’re going to wimp out,” he said, his anger visible to others in the office.
Over and over, Pence asked if there was anything he could do.
“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him.
Pence pressed again.
“You don’t know the position I’m in,” he said, according to the authors.
“I do know the position you’re in,” Quayle responded. “I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power.”
‘You really should do a tweet’
According to the authors, Trump ignored repeated requests by both staff and his daughter Ivanka Trump to call off the rioters at the Capitol on January 6.
In one episode, retired Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as Pence’s national security adviser, was in the White House with Trump while he watched the insurrection unfold on television.
Kellogg urged Trump to act.
“You really should do a tweet,” Kellogg said, according to the authors. “You need to get a tweet out real quick, help control the crowd up there. This is out of control. They’re not going to be able to control this. Sir, they’re not prepared for it. Once a mob starts turning like that, you’ve lost it.”
“Yeah,” Trump said. The authors write, ‘Trump blinked and kept watching television.’
Ivanka Trump also repeatedly tried to intervene, talking to her father three times. “Let this thing go,” she told him. “Let it go,” she said, according to the book.
Top officials told the authors that Trump’s outbursts reminded them of “Full Metal Jacket” at times and “Doctor Strangelove” at others.
“You took away my authority!” Trump screamed at Esper in the Oval Office. “You’re not the president! I’m the goddamn president.”
But Trump wasn’t done, according to the book, turning to the rest of his team in the room. “You’re all fucked up,” he yelled. “Everybody. You’re all fucked. Every one of you is fucked up!”
In the aftermath of the election, Trump’s rage was directed at Barr for daring to even mention the incoming Biden administration.
“First part of the Biden administration!” Trump shouted, according to the authors. Trump was so mad, Barr thought, ‘if a human being can have flames come out of his ears, this was it,’ Woodward and Costa write.
“This guy called me every single day, pretended to be my best friend, and then, he fucked me. He’s not a good guy,” Trump said, according to the book.
“Kevin came down to kiss my ass and wants my help to win the House back,” Trump said, according to the authors.
The book ends with Trump allies speculating about his plans for 2024. Privately, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is quoted as saying, “if he wants to run, then he’s going to have to deal with his personality problems … we’ve got a very damaged team captain.”
“You’ve been written off as dead because of January the 6th. The conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party, under your leadership, has collapsed,” Graham told Trump, according to the book. Graham continued, telling Trump that if “you came back to take the White House, it would be the biggest comeback in American history.”
“Sir, are you going to run?”
“I’m thinking about it … I’m really strongly thinking about running,” Trump said, according to the book.
“He had an army. An army for Trump. He wants that back,” Parscale later told others. “I don’t think he sees it as a comeback. He sees it as vengeance.”