Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley took steps to prevent then-President Donald Trump from misusing the country's nuclear arsenal during the last month of his presidency, according to a new book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa obtained by NBC News.
Their book, "Peril," said that in the days before the 2020 election, Milley also acted to prevent a potential conflict with China. The book said Milley received intelligence that Chinese officials believed the U.S. was getting ready to attack them. To defuse tensions, Milley called the head of China's military, Gen. Li Zuocheng, and told him the "American government is stable" and "we are not going to attack."
"If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise," Milley is quoted as saying.
"We're not going to have a fight," Milley told him, according to the book.
Li replied, "Okay."
"I take you at your word," Li said.
Trump laced into Milley in a statement, calling the general a "dumb---" and the details of the story "Fake News."
"For the record, I never even thought of attacking China — and China knows that. The people that fabricated the story are sick and demented, and the people who print it are just as bad," he said in the statement.
The book, set to be released Sept. 21, also recounted a phone conversation Milley had with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol, which Pelosi blamed on an "unhinged" Trump. Pelosi said in January that she spoke to Milley about "preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike."
"I can guarantee you, you can take it to the bank, that there'll be, that the nuclear triggers are secure and we're not going to do — we're not going to allow anything crazy, illegal, immoral or unethical to happen," Milley told her, according to a transcript of the call obtained by the authors.
"The president alone can order the use of nuclear weapons. But he doesn't make the decision alone. One person can order it, several people have to launch it," he said later in the conversation.
After the call, Milley summoned senior officers from the National Military Command Center to go over the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, the book said. He told the officers that if they got a call, "you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," he said — making sure he was in the loop on any planned military actions, the book said.
Those scenarios didn't come to fruition.
The book also revealed a previously unreported call between then-Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Dan Quayle in late December. Pence was seeking advice about Trump's demand that he refuse to recognize the election results during the electoral vote count on Jan. 6.
Quayle thought Trump's suggestion was "preposterous and dangerous," according to the book. He told Pence: "You have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away."
Pence told him, "I've been trying to tell Trump," but "there are other guys there saying I have this power."
"You don't," Quayle told him.
Pence told his fellow native Indianan he did have some concerns about the vote in Arizona. Quayle responded, "Mike, I live in Arizona."
"There's nothing out here," he said.