The top U.S. military leader, fearful that former President Donald Trump could "go rogue" in the final weeks of his White House tenure, acted unilaterally to assure China that the U.S. would not launch an attack during Trump's last days in office, according to a new book.
In two secret phone calls, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his counterpart, Chinese General Li Zuocheng of the People's Liberation Army, that the United States would not attack, according to the account in "Peril," a book about the last days of Trump's presidency, by longtime Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward and one of the newspaper's veteran political reporters, Robert Costa.
The book is scheduled for release next week, but the Post, CNN and other news outlets excerpted details on Tuesday.
The book says Milley made one of the calls on October 30, 2020, four days before Trump lost his reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden. The other came on January 8, 2021, two days after hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed effort to thwart lawmakers from certifying Biden's election victory.
With Trump making belligerent comments about China, Milley told the authors he was prompted to assure Li that the U.S. was not preparing to attack.
"General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable, and everything is going to be okay," Milley told him, according to the book. "We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you."
In the second call, Milley told Li, "We are 100 percent steady. Everything's fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes."
According to the book, Milley made the second call because he believed Trump, enraged at his loss, had suffered a mental decline after the November 3 outcome — a view Milley shared with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an opposition Democratic leader and longtime Trump critic.
The authors obtained a transcript of a call between Pelosi and Milley in which Pelosi told the general, "He's crazy. You know he's crazy," referring to Trump.
After the rioting at the Capitol, in which more than 600 people have been charged so far, Milley worried that Trump could "go rogue," the authors recounted.
"You never know what a president's trigger point is," Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.
Milley summoned senior military officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons. Milley said that only the president, as commander in chief, could give the order for a nuclear attack, but that he, Milley, also had to be involved.
According to the book, Milley asked each of the high-ranking officials to affirm that they understood his role, in what he considered an "oath."
Woodward and Costa wrote that others in the U.S. government also shared Milley's concern about Trump's demeanor upon losing the election.
Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel reportedly told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup."
In the end, Trump left Washington without attending Biden's inauguration and did not launch any last-minute overseas attacks. But to this day, he regularly asserts falsely that he was cheated out of reelection by voter fraud in numerous states.
Trump said he is considering campaigning for another White House term in the 2024 election.
The book also recounts how former Vice President Mike Pence struggled with Trump's demand that Pence refuse to affirm the election outcome during the January 6 certification at the Capitol.
The authors wrote that Pence talked with former Vice President Dan Quayle, who oversaw the certification of the 1992 election when he was on the losing ticket. But Quayle assured Pence he had no choice but to certify Biden's victory, since the outcome had been confirmed in key political battleground states after numerous recounts and unsuccessful court challenges.
Trump and Biden declined to be interviewed for the book. There was no immediate reaction from Trump about the accounts of his actions in the final weeks of his presidency as related in the book.