Could Mark Milley Help Jack Smith Put Donald Trump Behind Bars?

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a key witness in both the Mar-a-Lago and January 6 prosecutions of the former president.

AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, at the Pentagon in July. AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file

The retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, is now the subject of a profile in the Atlantic — it’s called “The Patriot,” and purports to tell how he “protected the Constitution from Donald Trump.” Could his recollections of his time under President Trump be catnip for not only the press, but also prosecutors? 

Mr. Trump faces criminal charges with respect to both efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after his presidency in violation of the Espionage Act. General Milley would appear to be involved with both, which could trigger a trial subpoena from the special counsel, Jack Smith.    

The magazine’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, writes in his profile that the general was “forced to confront the possibility that a president would try to foment or provoke a coup in order to illegally remain in office.” Mr. Goldberg reckons that the military man did “as much, or more, than any other American to defend the constitutional order.”

Mr. Goldberg writes of the general’s “contempt for the January 6 insurrectionists,” but hearsay is not required to get a sense of General Milley’s experience of that day. He testified before the January 6 committee, and also plays a key role in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Mar-a-Lago indictment. In both, he is a holder of insight into Mr. Trump’s states of mind at pivotal interludes. 

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by
The Capitol on January 6, 2021. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

He told that committee — the transcript of his testimony runs 300 pages —  in respect of January 6 that “I knew the significance, and I asked my staff, freeze all your records.” He ordered his team to save “boatloads” of documents. He also ordered classifications ensuring that “who appropriately needed to see it” could access it. 

General Milley shared to the Democrat-dominated committee that he “noted” that Mr. Trump did not call him on January 6, and wondered, “You’re the Commander in Chief. You’ve got an assault going on on the Capitol of the United States of America, and there’s nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?”

Most important for the special counsel’s case, though, could be the general’s testimony, found in Mr. Smith’s indictment, that Mr. Trump told him shortly before January 6 with respect to “an overseas national security issue” that “Yeah, we lost, we need to let that issue go to the next guy, meaning President Biden.”   

General Milley’s recollection could be crucial to the effort to convict the president because the charges against Mr. Trump require intent, meaning that for Mr. Trump to be convicted a jury will have to be persuaded that he knew he lost the election and nevertheless persisted in attempting to overturn the outcome. 

The chairman also appears in Mr. Smith’s Mar-a-Lago indictment, albeit in an off-stage role. The scene is Mr. Trump’s golf club at Bedminster, New Jersey in July, 2021. The special counsel alleges that Mr. Trump “showed and described a ‘plan of attack’” that “was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official.” The interaction was captured on audio tape.  

Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, writes in his book “The Chief’s Chief”  that “The president recalls a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself. It contained the general’s own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency. President Trump denied those requests every time.”

General Milley tells CNN that “I can tell you with certainty that this chairman never recommended a wholesale attack on Iran.”  The legal peril for Mr. Trump could come less from the subject of the document than its classification status. Mr. Trump can be heard musing that the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” 

Mr. Trump adds that “as president I could have declassified” the document,  but “Now I can’t,” since he was no longer president. In Mr. Smith’s superseding indictment, he adds that the discussion at Bedminster involved a “presentation concerning military activity in a foreign country,” which CNN has reported was Iran.  

The former president maintains that the conversation at Bedminster was an instance of bravado, and that he was referring not to attack plans but to building plans. General Milley was not there, but he nevertheless could be one of the crucial voices — he already is one, on paper — that determine whether Mr. Trump is a free man on Inauguration Day 2024.   

Mr. Trump took to Truth Social on Friday to note that General Milley “led perhaps the most embarrassing moment in American history with his grossly incompetent implementation of the withdrawal from Afghanistan” and called him a “Woke train wreck.”

The New York Sun

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