It's hardly a secret that conditions throughout our government were dire toward the end of Donald Trump's presidency. What's unsettling is the stream of revelations that continue to come to light, documenting the extent to which things were worse than we knew.
Take yesterday's revelations, for example. NBC News reported:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley took steps to prevent then-President Donald Trump from misusing the country's nuclear arsenal during the last month of his presidency, according to a new book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa obtained by NBC News.
It sounds like outlandish fiction, but it was apparently our reality — not in some long-ago past, before the United States became the world's preeminent superpower, but earlier this year.
As Rachel noted on last night's show, two days after the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Milley — a man who was tapped by Trump to serve as the nation's senior military officer — had a difficult conversation with his counterpart in China, who feared that the United States had become an unstable power that could collapse. Indeed, Beijing wasn't even sure whether Trump might start some kind of war — perhaps even targeting China — as part of a wild bid to hold power.
Milley tried to convince his counterpart in Beijing that the United States remained a steady and stable democracy, but according to the Woodward/Costa book, the general didn't really believe his own assurances. On the contrary, Milley feared that the Republican president was in serious mental decline, and his most rabid followers wanted to overthrow the government.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly also spoke to Milley in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, and the California Democrat also expressed concern that the erratic and unhinged president might launch some kind of dangerous military strike.
Woodward and Costa apparently obtained a transcript of the Pelosi-Milley call — why such a transcript exists, I don't know — in which the Speaker asked the general about preventing Trump from accessing launch codes for a nuclear strike. Milley assured her that everything was under control.
Pelosi remained concerned, telling the general, in reference to Trump, "He's crazy. You know he's crazy." Milley responded, "I agree with you on everything."
It was around this time that the general, according to the book, summoned senior officers from the National Military Command Center, telling them to call him directly before acting on suspect orders from the then-president.
In reality, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not in the chain of command before a military strike, but Milley was so concerned about Trump's stability, he was effectively adding himself to the process as a way of preventing a dangerous president from doing something catastrophically insane.
Late yesterday, Trump was apparently made aware of the book's revelations, leading the Republican to issue a written statement in which he called Milley, whom he handpicked to serve as the Joint Chiefs chairman, a "dumbass." Though the former president described the book's reporting as "fake news," he also suggested Milley may need to be "tried for TREASON" for having communicated with his Chinese counterpart "behind the president's back."
Circling back to our earlier coverage, it wasn't that long ago when Trump held Milley in high regard, even treating the general — and not the secretary of defense — as the top decision-maker at the Pentagon.
That did not last. In June 2020, for example, Milley publicly expressed regret for his presence during Trump's Lafayette Square debacle. The Republican wasn't pleased by the general's reaction, deeming it a betrayal. Soon after, as the then-president tried to discredit his own country's electoral system, and raised the prospect of ignoring election results he didn't like, the Joint Chiefs chairman made explicit that the armed forces would not be involved in the electoral process or resolving an election dispute.
As Election Day 2020 neared, the Trump campaign even included Milley in a commercial, without the general's consent or approval, despite the military's strict rules.
The former president apparently settled on the "dumbass" assessment quite recently.
The significance of these new revelations are difficult to digest, though there was one thought I couldn't shake while reading the latest reporting: Trump remains the prohibitive favorite for the Republican Party's 2024 presidential nomination.