Former President Donald Trump’s failed insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6th was not the only example of him finding ways to hold onto power after losing the 2020 election, according to an alarming new report published on Thursday by Susan B. Glasser of The New Yorker.
On January 3rd, Trump had to be talked out of launching airstrikes against the Islamic Republic of Iran by General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milly “secretly feared that Trump would insist on launching a strike on Iranian interests that could set off a full-blown war,” wrote Glasser.
The danger was so real that Milley compared it to Adolf Hitler’s burning of the Berlin Reichstag in 1933, which Hitler exploited to consolidate power and become the absolute dictator of Germany.
“This dangerous post-election period, Milley said, was all because of Trump’s ‘Hitler’-like embrace of the ‘Big Lie‘ that the election had been stolen from him; Milley feared it was Trump’s ‘Reichstag moment,’ in which, like Adolf Hitler in 1933, he would manufacture a crisis in order to swoop in and rescue the nation from it,” Glasser wrote.
This extraordinary confrontation between the nation’s top military official and the Commander-in-Chief had been building throughout 2020. Before the election, Milley had drafted a plan for how to handle the perilous period leading up to the Inauguration. He outlined four goals: first, to make sure that the U.S. didn’t unnecessarily go to war overseas; second, to make sure that U.S. troops were not used on the streets of America against the American people, for the purpose of keeping Trump in power; third, to maintain the military’s integrity; and, lastly, to maintain his own integrity. He referred back to them often in conversations with others.
As the crisis with Trump unfolded, and the chairman’s worst-case fears about the President not accepting defeat seemed to come true, Milley repeatedly met in private with the Joint Chiefs. He told them to make sure there were no unlawful orders from Trump and not to carry out any such orders without calling him first—almost a conscious echo of the final days of Richard Nixon, when Nixon’s Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger, reportedly warned the military not to act on any orders from the White House to launch a nuclear strike without first checking with him or with the national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger. At one meeting with the Joint Chiefs, in Milley’s Pentagon office, the chairman invoked Benjamin Franklin’s famous line, saying they should all hang together. To concerned members of Congress—including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—and also emissaries from the incoming Biden Administration, Milley also put out the word: Trump might attempt a coup, but he would fail because he would never succeed in co-opting the American military. ‘Our loyalty is to the U.S. Constitution,’ Milley told them, and ‘we are not going to be involved in politics.’
Glasser explained that it was Milley’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering with various Trump Administration officials that prevented Trump from acting – in panic – upon his worst impulses
“In the months after the election, with Trump seemingly willing to do anything to stay in power, the subject of Iran was repeatedly raised in White House meetings with the President, and Milley repeatedly argued against a strike,” wrote Glasser. “Trump did not want a war, the chairman believed, but he kept pushing for a missile strike in response to various provocations against U.S. interests in the region. Milley, by statute the senior military adviser to the President, was worried that Trump might set in motion a full-scale conflict that was not justified. Trump had a circle of Iran hawks around him and was close with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also urging the Administration to act against Iran after it was clear that Trump had lost the election. ‘If you do this, you’re gonna have a fucking war,’ Milley would say.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.