Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly drafted a resignation letter in the wake of his infamous stroll with then-President Trump and other senior officials through Lafayette Square after federal police used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest outside the White House in June 2020.
The text of what was reportedly a draft of his resignation letter was published by the New Yorker Monday. Addressed to Trump, the letter reads in part:
It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country. I believe that you have made a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military. I thought that I could change that. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot, and I need to step aside and let someone else try to do that.
The letter comes as part of an excerpt from a new book, “The Divider: Trump in the White House.” The book, by the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser and the New York Times’ Peter Baker, details episodes in which Trump’s military officials butted heads with the then-President.
The New Yorker’s excerpt primarily details Milley’s frustration with Trump, which it describes as escalating amid nationwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd. While it was previously reported that Milley considered resigning, the excerpt from the book adds new details, including the text of his draft resignation letter.
On the evening of June 1, 2020, Trump and several of his senior administration officials, including Milley, walked across Lafayette Square minutes after aggressive tactics by federal police were used to clear out protesters. Earlier in the day, the book says, Milley, then-Attorney General Bill Barr and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper pushed back on Trump’s demand to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and deploy active-duty military to quell BLM protests. Trump reportedly demanded that Milley take the lead on carrying out his request. Milley and others swiftly rejected Trump’s request, saying that the National Guard would be sufficient.
But ultimately, Milley marched behind Trump alongside other senior officials through the park, which was meant to project a “forceful response” to the BLM protests nationwide, according to the New Yorker.
Minutes after the short walk, in which Milley is seen dressed in combat fatigues, the then-President and his advisers participated in a now-infamous photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Milley, however, was nowhere to be seen during the church photo-op. He reportedly went AWOL as soon as he realized he should not be there, according to the New Yorker. Milley quietly peeled off from Trump and his aides and hopped into his waiting Chevy Suburban.
A week after the church photo-op, Milley reportedly wrote and re-wrote drafts of a letter of resignation. In what the New Yorker describes as his “preferred version,” Milley wrote that he had been prompted to do “deep soul-searching,” during which he said he realized that Trump has done “great and irreparable harm” to the country by making “a concerted effort over time to politicize” the military.
Milley criticized Trump for using the military to “create fear in the minds of the people.”
“I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people,” Milley wrote. “The American people trust their military and they trust us to protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and our military will do just that.”
Milley then reportedly condemned Trump for not sharing his values: that all men and women “are created equal, no matter who you are,” writing that it’s “obvious” to him that Trump does not “hold those values dear.”
Milley concluded that Trump was “ruining the international order” that was established after World War II by the “greatest generation.”
They were slaughtered because of tyrannies and dictatorships. That generation, like every generation, has fought against that, has fought against fascism, has fought against Nazism, has fought against extremism. It’s now obvious to me that you don’t understand that world order. You don’t understand what the war was all about. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against.
“And I cannot be a party to that,” Milley reportedly concluded. “It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation.”
Yet Milley ultimately did not follow through with his resignation. Milley reportedly had reached out to General Joseph Dunford, who served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under Barack Obama, and other political contacts, including members of Congress and former officials from the Bush and Obama Administrations. Most reportedly echoed what Robert Gates, a former secretary of defense and C.I.A. chief, told Milley: “Make them fire you. Don’t resign.”
Other members of Trump’s national security team traveled to Gates’ home in Washington state amid the ongoing turmoil.
“The problem with resignation is you can only fire that gun once,” Gates told them, according to the New Yorker.
Following the Lafayette Square incident, Gates reportedly advised Milley and Esper to stay in the Pentagon as long as possible because “if you resign, it’s a one-day story.”
“If you’re fired, it makes it clear you were standing up for the right thing,” Gates told them, according to the New Yorker.
Some details about Milley’s disagreements with Trump and his reported desire to resign had previously been reported. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril” detailed Milley’s reported disgust when Trump roped Milley and other senior officials into the surprise church photo-op. According to that book, during their walk through Lafayette Square with Trump, Milley turned to his chief of staff and said, “This is fucked up and this is a political event and I’m out of here. We’re getting the fuck out of here. I’m fucking done with this shit.”
The book reported that Milley sent a memo to the joint chiefs of staff and senior Pentagon officials the next day reminding them to “uphold the values of our nation, and operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct at all times.”
Milley had considered resigning at the time, the Woodward-Costa book said, but had backed off of the idea after consulting former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who also previously served as joint chiefs chairman.
“Fuck no!” Powell told Milley, according to the Woodward-Costa book. “I told you never to take the job. You never should have taken the job. Trump’s a fucking maniac.”