Some officials who know Milley were not surprised. “We all saw this coming,” the former senior defense official told me. When Milley got the job, in 2019, it was the culmination of an unusually forthright campaign. His primary backers were what a former senior military official described as the “West Point cabal”: Esper; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and David Urban, a businessman and a Republican fund-raiser close to Trump. All of them were classmates at West Point, graduating in 1986.
The former senior defense official suggested that Milley was too ambitious to resist flawed ideas from a superior. “Milley doesn’t push back,” he said. “He doesn’t know where his ethical line is.” Others with knowledge of the situation say that Milley drew at least one line, not long before the walk to the church. In a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump expressed a desire to quell the protests by sending forces—not the National Guard but regular military—into American cities. Milley resisted. “They got into a shouting match,” the senior military official told me. Trump finally backed down. (Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, disputed this account, saying, “There was no shouting match, in terms of any directions or any operational decision that was made.”) An official who works on military issues confirmed the confrontation, and told me that Milley said, “I’m not doing that. That’s for law enforcement.” The official described Milley as brash and pushy—traits that could be useful in the current Administration: “We have a bully in the White House, and a bully needs a bully.”