Former President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s disagreements last summer over whether and how the military should respond to protests involving racial justice devolved into a profanity-laced shouting match, a new book reports.
In his upcoming book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender wrote that, in a particularly tense Situation Room meeting with then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump declared that he had put Milley “in charge” of a military response to the protests.
According to Axios, which obtained excerpts of the book, Bender wrote that Milley privately sought to correct Trump’s assertion that, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he was an adviser to the President, not in command of troops. But, he wrote, Trump didn’t want to hear it.
“‘I said you’re in f—ing charge!’ Trump shouted at him,” Bender wrote.
“‘Well, I’m not in charge!’ Milley yelled back.
“‘You can’t f—ing talk to me like that!’ Trump said.
“‘Goddamnit,’ Milley said to the others. ‘There’s a room full of lawyers here. Will someone inform him of my legal responsibilities?’
“‘He’s right, Mr. President,’ Barr said. ‘The general is right.'”
Trump, through a spokesman, denied to Axios that he ever had an argument with Milley, and added that, “If Gen. Milley had yelled at me, I would have fired him.” Trump also said that Bender never asked him for comment on the alleged incident. Bender told Axios that “multiple senior administration officials” confirmed the exchange, and that he did ask Trump for his side of this incident, but that Trump never replied.
Milley’s office did not immediately respond to a request from Military.com, and declined to comment to Axios.
Bender wrote that Trump’s language became increasingly violent as the protests involving racial justice and policing in Seattle and Portland reached cable news, CNN reported last week. And, Bender wrote, Trump would show administration officials videos of law enforcement “getting physical” with protesters and tell them he wanted to see more of that.
“That’s how you’re supposed to handle these people,” Bender reported Trump told top law enforcement and military officials. “Crack their skulls!”
Bender also wrote Trump wanted the military to “beat the f— out” of the protesters — and more.
“Just shoot them,” Bender reported Trump said several times in the Oval Office.
According to CNN, Bender reported Milley and Barr pushed back, causing Trump to say “Well, shoot them in the leg — or maybe the foot. But be hard on them!”
The New York Times reported Friday that Trump suggested several times he might use the Insurrection Act to allow active-duty troops to be deployed to put down protests, and White House aides drafted a proclamation to invoke the act. Trump never took that step.
Bender’s book said Milley and Esper were strongly opposed to using the Insurrection Act, CNN reported. Milley reportedly told Trump the National Guard had enough troops to support law enforcement, and that invoking the Insurrection Act would move responsibility for the protests from local authorities to the White House.
Bender wrote that at one point, Milley pointed to a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.
“That guy had an insurrection,” Milley reportedly said. “What we have, Mr. President, is a protest.”
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