Trump wanted 'totally loyal' generals like Hitler's, new book says
President Donald Trump once told a top adviser that he wanted "totally loyal" generals like the ones who had served Adolf Hitler - unaware that some of Hitler's generals had tried to assassinate the Nazi leader several times, according to a new book about the Trump presidency.
Trump complained to John Kelly, then his chief of staff and a retired Marine Corps general, "why can't you be like the German generals?" according to "The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021" by journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glasser.
When Kelly asked which generals he meant, Trump replied: "The German generals in World War II."
"You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?" Kelly said, according to the book.
Trump didn't believe him, the book says. "No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him," Trump insisted.
An excerpt of the book, published Monday in The New Yorker, paints a picture of a president at conflict with his own military leaders, who were torn between resigning in protest and staying on as members of the Trump administration to prevent greater catastrophe.
According to those interviewed for the book, Trump's military leaders and advisers were regularly trying to pull back on Trump's desire to inflate his image and power, and to reconcile that desire with the values of the United States.
In one conversation from the book, Trump reportedly told Kelly he didn't want any injured veterans to be part of an Independence Day parade he was planning.
A spokesman for Trump had no immediate comment about the revelations in the book.
In another portion of the book, the authors describe how Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drafted a resignation letter in the days after military police fired gas canisters and used grenades containing rubber pellets, clearing racial justice protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of Trump's photo op in front of nearby St. John's Church.
That event and other recent ones had prompted Milley to do "deep soul-searching," Milley wrote in the letter, adding that he believed Trump was "doing great and irreparable harm" to the country. He wrote that he thought the president had made "a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military" and that he no longer believed he could change that.
"You are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people - and we are trying to protect the American people," Milley wrote. "I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people."
Trump, he added later, did not seem to believe or value the idea, embodied in the Constitution, that all men and women are created equal. Lastly, Milley said he "deeply" believed that Trump was ruining the international order and causing significant damage to the United States overseas and did not understand that millions of Americans had died in wars fighting fascism, Nazism and extremism.
"It's now obvious to me that you don't understand that world order. You don't understand what [World War II] was all about," Milley wrote. "In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. And I cannot be a party to that."
Though the resignation letter was ultimately never sent, it showed the degree to which Milley believed Trump had already inflicted damage on the country. And though he was convinced by several not to quit, Milley would later fear two "nightmare scenarios" related to Trump's attempts to hang onto power at home, according to the book.
"Milley feared that Trump's 'Hitler-like' embrace of his own lies about the election would lead him to seek a 'Reichstag moment,' " Baker and Glasser wrote, referring to a 1933 fire in the German parliament that Hitler seized to take control of the country. "Milley now envisioned a declaration of martial law or a Presidential invocation of the Insurrection Act, with Trumpian Brown Shirts fomenting violence."
Milley later feared that the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection - in which a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory - was in fact that "Reichstag moment."
"They shook the very Republic to the core," Milley later said about the Capitol attack, according to the book. "Can you imagine what a group of people who are much more capable could have done?"