Alan Zendell, September 15, 2021
Yesterday, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) told Washington Post reporters, ”It is breathtaking to think of the lengths that [Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark] Milley and others went to to avert the disasters Trump was creating at the end of his presidency.” He was reacting to excerpts from Peril, a new book by Bob Woodward and reporter Robert Costa. The book describes the chaotic last months of the Trump administration, including the fears that many top administration figures had that Trump’s lust to retain power might drive him to irrational, dangerous actions.
Peril mentions Milley a number of times. He reportedly placed two secret calls to his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng, to calm Chinese concerns that Trump was planning to attack China to save his presidency. That prompted former president Trump and sometime sycophant Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to accuse Milley of treason and demand his resignation. In response, President Biden said he had great confidence in Milley, whom he has come to know well and trust. Milley’s spokesperson, Colonel Dave Butler, said all of Milley’s actions were constitutional and within his designated responsibilities, and that Milley “continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution.”
Milley also reportedly ordered his military commanders to ignore any presidential orders to initiate hostilities against Iran, China, or any other country, including ordering a nuclear strike, without involving him in the conversation first. Though there is no legal requirement for a president to get approval for his actions from military officers, Milley was concerned that Trump, who he viewed as deranged, could trigger a nuclear war. I can barely imagine the courage that took. If Bush 43’s senior officers, Colin Powell, in particular, had demonstrated that kind of courage, we might have avoided twenty years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking of heroic acts, many Americans, even some of his detractors, praised then Vice President Pence for refusing to follow Trump’s order that he delay or derail the Senate’s certification of Biden’ victory on January 6th, after which, according to Peril, Trump in typical vindictive fashion, told Pence, “I don’t want to be your friend any more. I made you. You were nothing.” But let us not heap too much praise on Mr. Pence, who spent four years as Trump’s chief lapdog and enabler. It turns out he wasn’t all that heroic.
Rather, he reportedly sought every possible means of overturning the election, and only did “the right thing” when it was clear there was none. The book reveals that as a last resort, VP Pence consulted Bush 43’s VP, Dan Quayle, who told him, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.” But even that wasn’t enough, as Pence continued to probe for ways to stay in Trump’s graces, hoping to be his successor. He only gave in when it was clear that appeasing Trump would expose him to criminal prosecution.
There’s much more in Peril, whose title clearly expresses what Woodward and Costa believe about the state of our nation from November thru January. There has been a lot published about Trump’s presidency, much by people who can reasonably be accused of having an ax to grind, not to mention hoping for a huge payday. Of all of them, Bob Woodward has spent five decades earning our national trust. Trump said as much when he agreed to be interviewed by Woodward. Let’s assume for the moment that Woodward’s conclusions, based largely on detailed interviews with senior administration official, are correct. Given his connection to the Post, (he’s an associate editor,) let’s see what their editorial board has to say.
They raised a number of pertinent questions today. One addressed the 25th Amendment by which an unfit or indisposed President can be removed from office. The amendment was intended to deal with a gravely ill president, a situation in which politics would not be an issue. But since the amendment requires agreement among the president’s political appointees, it’s extremely unlikely that it would ever be invoked in a politically charged situation, no matter how potentially dangerous it was. The Post suggests an urgent need for “statutory authorization and guidance on the 25th Amendment to lay out step-by-step instructions for the vice president and the Cabinet.”
More importantly, Post editors ask “what guarantees must be put in place to prevent an unstable president from setting off a nuclear war?” That’s a damn good question, and one that our politically gridlocked Congress in unlikely to be able to answer, which raises their final question: “How long will traditional Republicans who believe in the Constitution continue to support Trump as the leader of their party?”