The two-Bob bombshell (Woodward’s coauthor is the Washington Post’s Robert Costa) puts the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the hottest of hot seats by revealing he gave China back-channel assurances of no American attack as he worried about the stability of Donald Trump. That, by any measure, is an extraordinary step for the nation’s top military official, arguably undermining the civilian chain of command.
But if those demanding Milley’s resignation are relying on the forthcoming book “Peril,” it’s impossible to turn around and brand the book garbage. The story, rooted in their reporting — and with obvious cooperation from Milley — is either true, or it’s not worth worrying about.
Yet here is a furious Trump, in a statement to the press, saying that if the account of “Dumbass” Mark Milley is true, “then I assume he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!”
Then comes the pivot:
“The good news is that the story is Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact.”
So then why would Milley be tried on the basis of “fiction”? Trump also says “I never even thought of attacking China,” which may well be true, but the authors don’t say he did — only that the general was worried about the possibility of such an attack.
Trump, who granted Woodward 18 taped interviews for his previous book “Rage,” didn’t speak to him this time — and, on “Newsmax,” called him a “sleaze.”
But Woodward has a long track record of delivering the goods. Having once worked with him – and having covered him for decades, including his missteps – I can say that he not only gets top officials to tell him things but often vacuums up documents to back it up.
While he’s drawn criticism for painting those who provide access in a more positive light, he, like other authors, also has fuller accounts from those people than those who refuse to cooperate. A good chunk of his last book was Trump, on the record, explaining himself.
Conservative pundits, some Republicans, and Trump himself are making Milley the villain of the story, and these attacks are based on substance. The Woodward-Costa book portrays Milley as, in the Post’s account, “so fearful that the president’s actions might spark a war with China that he moved urgently to avert armed conflict.”
Based on intel reports that China feared a U.S. attack, Milley had two calls with Beijing’s top military official – one four days before the election, the other two days after the Capitol riot – to assure him that Washington had no such plans, and that he’d provide a heads up if something materialized.
What’s more, after agreeing with Nancy Pelosi that Trump was crazy (the authors have a call transcript), Milley is said to have told his senior officers that he had to be consulted if there was a presidential order to launch nuclear weapons.
So critics are perfectly justified in asking whether a military man was illegally usurping an elected president’s authority by sending back-channel warnings to an adversary and in effect demanding veto power over a decision to go to war.
Liberals and Democrats defending Milley are essentially taking an ends-justify-the-means stance: Trump was nuts so the general had to step in and prevent America from a possible war of annihilation.
Now flip the script: If a book reported that a top military official had undermined Barack Obama by secretly calling Vladimir Putin and inserting himself into nuclear decisions, wouldn’t the left be going haywire – and the right be defending such a general?
Pentagon officials now say Milley didn’t insert himself into the nuclear chain of command but was clarifying everyone’s role, reports Fox’s Jennifer Griffin. They also say there were 15 people on conference calls with Milley’s Chinese counterpart, including a State Department official, making it sound less furtive and mysterious.
Still, Milley had to know that by sharing his anti-Trump account with the authors, he would be detonating the Mother of All Bombs, and will likely face hearings and subpoenas.
But that doesn’t mean Woodward and Costa missed the mark by unearthing the most sensitive details yet of the final weeks of the Trump presidency.