Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPentagon 'aware' of reports Wisconsin military base's struggle to feed, heat Afghan refugees Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE on Wednesday said he had “tremendous faith and confidence” in Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage If DOD wants small business contracts, it has to cut the red tape Top US general: Meeting with Russian counterpart 'productive' MORE after former President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE blasted the four-star general over a book excerpt.

Trump targeted the general following recent reports that Milley looked to prevent Trump from staging a coup after losing the 2020 election. Trump said he had "lost total confidence" in Milley during his presidency, claiming Milley "choked like a dog" under scrutiny.

“I’ve known the chairman for a long time. We’ve fought together, we’ve served a couple of times in the same unit, so I’m not guessing at his character. He doesn’t have a political bone in his body,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

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“I clearly have tremendous faith and confidence in the chairman,” he added.

Conservatives have heavily criticized Milley in the past several weeks for newly revealed scenes during the Trump administration, written about in several recently released books.

An excerpt from the book "I Alone Can Fix It," by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, said Milley was so concerned Trump might try to stay in power through a coup in the last days of his presidency that he discussed it with his deputies.

The authors wrote that Milley saw Trump as "the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” and “told his staff that he believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.”

Following that revelation, Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 90 percent of full-time Fox Corp. employees say they're fully vaccinated: executive MORE called for Milley to be fired and Trump said he should be court-martialed if the statements were true.

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A clash between Trump and Milley is also quoted in an upcoming book from The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost.” 

That book describes a scene in which Trump yelled at Milley while expressing his desire to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and deploy active-duty troops to Washington, D.C., amid civil unrest in the wake of last year’s police killing of George Floyd. 

Milley reportedly pushed back on Trump’s request, citing legal provisions limiting the military from interfering in domestic affairs.

On Wednesday, Milley declined to comment on the books' claims and said he always “provided the best military professional advice” to Trump, noting that it was “candid, honest, every single occasion.”

“I know there’s a lot of interest out there on all of these books that are out there quoting me. ... I’m not going to comment on what’s in any of those books,” Milley said alongside Austin.

Pressed on whether he was worried by the perception he used his role for political reasons, he would only say that he and other military leaders took an oath to uphold the Constitution “and not one time do we violate that.”

“I want America to know that the United States military is an apolitical institution. We were then and we are now. Our oath is to the Constitution, not to any individual at all,” Milley said.

“The military did not and will not and should not ever get involved in domestic politics. We don’t arbitrate elections. That's the job of the judiciary and the legislature and the American people. It's not the job of the U.S. military," he added.

Austin added that Pentagon leadership will “do everything within our power” to make sure that military members and personnel “remain focused on the task at hand and understand that they are not a part of the political apparatus. We will remain apolitical.”