Ex-Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen: 'Incredibly disturbing' that military leadership reportedly feared Trump coup

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Retired Adm. Michael Mullen on CBS. (Screenshot: Twitter/@FaceTheNation)
Retired Adm. Mike Mullen on CBS. (Screenshot: FaceTheNation via Twitter)

Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that it was “incredibly disturbing” that reports detailed a top U.S. general’s fears that Donald Trump, in the waning days of his presidency, would attempt to use the military to stage a coup or take action against Iran.

“I think the reporting, from what I understand, has been pretty accurate,” Mullen said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” according to the show transcript.

“Particularly after the election and the two threats that you talked about,” he told host John Dickerson when asked about the reports. “The external one, and whether or not we would commence some kind of combat or conflict with Iran. And then the internal one in terms of where it might go, particularly with respect to how the military would be used by President Trump to somehow validate that the election actually was a fraud and keep the president in power. I think that’s all very accurate and obviously incredibly disturbing, literally in every respect.”

The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, had bluntly described his concern that Trump would use America’s armed forces to overturn the 2020 election, according to excerpts released of an upcoming book, “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.

“They may try, but they’re not going to f***ing succeed,” Milley told his deputies of a possible coup, according to CNN’s account of the book, which will be released Tuesday. “You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark Milley salutes during a ceremony marking full operation of the NATO's Joint force Command aboard the USS Kearsarge at Naval Station Norfolk Thursday July 15, 2021, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Steve Helber/AP)

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser also reported last week that Milley told associates that he was readying for two “nightmare scenarios” as Trump continued to deny the results of the election: “to use the military on the streets of America to prevent the legitimate, peaceful transfer of power” and to use the military to escalate a conflict with Iran.

Milley had told his staff that Trump was stoking unrest after losing the November contest, Leonnig and Rucker reported, with the U.S.’s top general describing Trump as “the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose.” He was reportedly getting ready for a showdown with the president. (Milley’s office has declined to comment on the book’s claims.)

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book, referring to the 1933 burning of the German parliament building that preceded Adolf Hitler’s suspension of many civil liberties in the country.

Trump issued a statement last week denying he had ever contemplated a coup, though he said “numerous people” urged him to “bring in the Military.”

He disparaged Milley at length across multiple statements, saying the Joint Chiefs chairman had “no courage or skill” and was “certainly not the type of person I would be talking ‘coup’ with. I’m not into coups!”

Trump further suggested that Milley, who he appointed, “should be impeached, or court-martialed and tried” if the book’s claims about what he said are true. Trump’s statements also continued to spread baseless conspiracies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

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Mullen has been at times a vocal critic of Trump. In June 2020, he publicly denounced then-President Trump’s use of the military to clear Lafayette Square of nonviolent protesters ahead of a photo op with a Bible at nearby St. John’s Church. Trump, Mullen wrote in the Atlantic, “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.”

In his Sunday interview, Mullen noted that Milley “readily admitted he made a big mistake” by taking part in Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square but was ready for the tumultuous events afterward, notably the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

“His antenna was up,” Mullen said of Milley. “He knew the right thing to do. He knew how to do it, as best you could figure out, in what is a very, very fluid situation. And then he executed accordingly. So, I think he more than made up for that mistake that he made surrounding Lafayette Square.”

Mullen also told CBS that he still has worries about the politicization of the military.

“I continue to have them, even now, because the political environment is so intense and so divided. And we need to work hard to make sure the military doesn’t become part of what is politicized in this country.”

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