Gen. Mark Milley was ‘one of the happiest people’ at Biden’s inauguration because it meant Trump was out of office, book says

General Mark Milley testifies in front of Congress.
General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
  • Gen. Mark Milley was one of “the happiest people” at Biden’s inauguration, a new book says.
  • He was buoyant not because “it was President Biden,” but because “Trump was out of the presidency.”
  • “Peril” documented Milley’s inner turmoil throughout Trump’s presidency and how he responded to Trump’s impulsivity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was one of the most buoyant people at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to “Peril,” by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, an early copy of which was obtained by Insider.

Being at the inauguration “was part of the job,” the authors wrote, but Milley “thought he might be one of the happiest people up there. Not because it was President Biden, but because Trump was out of the presidency and it looked like another peaceful transfer of power.”

Biden’s inauguration on January 20 came two weeks after a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to force Congress to certify Trump as the winner of the 2020 election.

The insurrection shocked Milley, who was already in a heightened state of alert given Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior after he lost the election to Biden. The siege prompted Milley, the nation’s highest ranking military officer, to issue a rare public memo to the military calling the event “a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.”

“The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” the memo said, adding that on January 20, “President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.”

When he finished drafting it, Milley took the memo to the joint chiefs and told them he could sign it on his own “or we can all sign it,” according to “Peril.”

The officials – seven generals and one admiral – read it over and said they would all sign it, and it was sent to the military on January 12. The memo was a public reflection of the inner turmoil Milley felt at many points throughout Trump’s presidency, particularly in the run-up to the election, as well as in the months after.

On November 12, five days after the election was called for Biden, the book said Milley described the state of the country as “a plane with four engines and three of them are out.”

He made the assessment to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following a meeting in which Trump’s national security officials had to talk him out of launching a strike against Iran, according to the book. It said Milley spoke with Pompeo by phone that night and stressed the importance of keeping calm.

“Just steady,” he was quoted as saying. “Breathe through our noses. Steady as a rock. We’re going to land this plane safely. We’ve got a plane with four engines and three of them are out. We’ve got no landing gear. But we’re going to land this plane and we’re going to land it safely.”

Woodward and Costa also reported that in the days before the election and after the Capitol siege, Milley was so alarmed by Trump’s behavior that he called his counterpart in China, once on October 30 and once on January 8, to assure him that the US was not going to start a war with China.

The authors wrote that although Milley assured Gen. Li Zuocheng in January 8 call that the US was “100 percent steady,” he privately thought the riot amounted to “treason” and believed Trump was still looking for his “Reichstag moment.”

The joint chiefs chairman drew sharp criticism after details of his calls with Li were published from the book. Trump accused Milley of “treason,” while former Trump impeachment witness retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman called for his immediate resignation.

But Milley’s spokesperson released a statement saying the calls were “in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability,” and that they were coordinated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.