Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley considered resigning during President Donald Trump’s final months in office but instead elected to stay and “fight from the inside” against Trump, according to excerpts from a forthcoming book this week.
Milley’s alleged decision to resist the commander-in-chief from within were revealed in excerpts of “The Divider: Trump in The White House” published by the New Yorker on Monday. The forthcoming book was written by New York Times journalist Peter Baker and New Yorker staff writer Susan Glasser and is set to hit shelves in September.
According to the book excerpts, Milley had decided to resist Trump after his response to widespread protests and riots throughout the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
On May 29, 2020, Trump was forced to take shelter in a bunker inside the White House as violent demonstrations took place around the White House. More than 60 U.S. Secret Service agents were injured responding to the riot. Two days later, the St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House was damaged by arsonists.
In the days after the chaos outside the White House, and as destructive protests and riots continued, Trump considered invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 and using active military forces to respond to the riots.
Milley and other officials working with the Trump administration resisted the idea to activate U.S. military troops to deal with rioters. On the morning of June 1, as Trump discussed the idea with military and administration officials, he reportedly said “we look weak.”
When Milley and others rejected using the Insurrection Act, Trump reportedly responded, saying, “You are all losers. You are all fucking losers!”
“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Trump reportedly added. Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender have also claimed Trump made this comment.
Milley reportedly finally broke with Trump after being photographed with him walking through Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. During the incident, Trump walked over to St. John’s church to inspect the arson damage in what critics said was a photo op. Protesters were dispersed from the square with riot control munitions shortly before Trump walked over to the church.
Milley publicly apologized for being photographed with Trump at Lafayette Square. According to the new book, Milley remained unhappy over his even incidental involvement in Trump’s Lafayette Square walk.
After the controversial photo op, the book alleges Milley began drafting different versions of a resignation letter. Milley’s alleged preferred resignation letter reads as follows:
I regret to inform you that I intend to resign as your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank you for the honor of appointing me as senior ranking officer. The events of the last couple weeks have caused me to do deep soul-searching, and I can no longer faithfully support and execute your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country. I believe that you have made a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military. I thought that I could change that. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot, and I need to step aside and let someone else try to do that.
Second, you are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people—and we are trying to protect the American people. I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people. The American people trust their military and they trust us to protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and our military will do just that. We will not turn our back on the American people.
Third, I swore an oath to the Constitution of the United States and embodied within that Constitution is the idea that says that all men and women are created equal. All men and women are created equal, no matter who you are, whether you are white or Black, Asian, Indian, no matter the color of your skin, no matter if you’re gay, straight or something in between. It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or choose not to believe. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter what country you came from, what your last name is—what matters is we’re Americans. We’re all Americans. That under these colors of red, white, and blue—the colors that my parents fought for in World War II—means something around the world. It’s obvious to me that you don’t think of those colors the same way I do. It’s obvious to me that you don’t hold those values dear and the cause that I serve.
And lastly it is my deeply held belief that you’re ruining the international order, and causing significant damage to our country overseas, that was fought for so hard by the Greatest Generation that they instituted in 1945. Between 1914 and 1945, 150 million people were slaughtered in the conduct of war. They were slaughtered because of tyrannies and dictatorships. That generation, like every generation, has fought against that, has fought against fascism, has fought against Nazism, has fought against extremism. It’s now obvious to me that you don’t understand that world order. You don’t understand what the war was all about. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. And I cannot be a party to that. It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation.
According to the book, as Milley continued to waiver over whether to resign, he reached out to officials from the Bush and Obama administrations for advice. The common advice officials gave was to follow advice from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “Make them fire you. Don’t resign.”
Milley did eventually decide against resigning, reportedly telling his staff “Fuck that shit. I’ll just fight him.”
“If they want to court-martial me, or put me in prison, have at it,” Milley reportedly added to his staff. “But I will fight from the inside.”
Gates told the book’s authors that Milley “would call me and essentially say, ‘I may not last until tomorrow night.’ And he was comfortable with that. He felt like he knew he was going to support the Constitution, and there were no two ways about it.”
After shelving his resignation plans, Milley reportedly came up with four goals for the remainder of his time in the Trump administration: first, prevent Trump from starting any foreign wars; second, prevent Trump from using the military to stay in power; third, maintain the military’s reputation; fourth, maintain his own reputation.
One of the things Milley reportedly resisted was an order by Trump to withdraw all U.S. troops deployed at the time in Afghanistan and Somalia by Jan. 15, 2021. The New Yorker described the order as a “rogue operation” that was “overseen by Johnny McEntee, Trump’s thirty-year-old personnel chief, and supported by the President himself.”
Milley reportedly took issue with the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan and Somalia and Trump’s advisors eventually persuaded Trump to ease off the plan. Trump instead went forward with a decision to draw troops in Afghanistan down to 2,500 troops by mid-January.
On Jan. 15, 2021, then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced the completion of Trump’s Afghan troop cuts. Just two months later, the New York Times reported the U.S. military had kept about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than it had admitted, withholding the “off the books” presence of special operations troops.
During Milley’s reported period of internal resistance to Trump, he contacted Democrats close to Joe Biden to assure them that the military would not be used to keep Trump in power.
One concern Milley reportedly had was that Trump would start a war with Iran, which would be used as a justification to seize emergency powers. A related fear was that Iran would attack Americans, providing Trump with a war justification without him having to order U.S. forces to fire the first shots.
On Dec. 20, 2020, a pro-Iranian militia group did fire rockets at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, according to the U.S. Central Command. Rather than starting the war with Iran that Milley feared, Trump simply threatened retaliation if any Americans were killed.
Milley also dealt with concerns Trump could start a conflict with China. In a September 2021 congressional hearing, Milley confirmed he had contacted Chinese military officials and reassured them that the U.S. would not attack. While journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril” characterized Milley’s calls with Chinese counterparts as an effort to forewarn them of any attacks ordered by Trump, Milley told Congress he was conveying “presidential orders and intent.”
Miller has said “I did not and would not ever authorize such conduct” as described in the book “Peril.” Miller also said if the “histrionic outbursts and unsanctioned, anti-Constitutional involvement in foreign policy prove true, [Milley] must resign immediately or be fired by the Secretary of Defense to guarantee the sanctity of the officer corps.”
According to the New Yorker, Milley considered Trump “shameful” and “complicit” in the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. capitol, which disrupted the certification of the 2020 election results for Biden.
Milley continues to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Biden administration.
During a June 2021 congressional hearing, Milley linked the Jan. 6 capitol breach to “white rage.”