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'Peril' Details Secret Actions Carried Out During The Last Days Of Trump's Presidency


Think about these next two things for a second. The most senior U.S. military official, fearful of former President Donald Trump's actions in his final weeks as president, calling his Chinese counterpart to reassure them. And then a vice president seeking advice to see if there was any way he could appease Trump's desire to refuse to certify the election.

These are just some of the key events laid out in a new book titled "Peril" by journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The Washington Post's Isaac Stanley-Becker has been reporting on the details of the new book. Isaac, the book is based on 200 interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses. What did they reveal about the phone calls placed by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley?

ISAAC STANLEY-BECKER: Just to put this in context, we know that the period between the election and the inauguration was a time of great domestic turmoil. And what "Peril" does is it shows that this was also a grave national security crisis. And what General Mark Milley did to try to allay that crisis or part of what he did was to place two top-secret phone calls to his Chinese counterpart because he believed that the Chinese believed that the U.S. was preparing to strike them, and they believed that the U.S. was unstable as a result of the January 6 insurrection. So he places these calls to reassure the Chinese, to say the U.S. is not going to lash out, it's stable, even go so far as to say, I'll alert you in advance of any sort of attack. And this is a remarkable exchange at this moment. But the general believes that it's necessary to prevent some sort of miscalculation or preemptive strike by China.

MARTÍNEZ: Milley also summoned senior officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons. I mean, what exactly happened there?

STANLEY-BECKER: This is a remarkable scene that the book describes. He summons senior officers, as you say, and he tells them the president alone has the authority to make a decision to launch a strike, to take some sort of action, but there are other parts of the process. And part of that process has to include me. I have to be in on the net. So anything that happens, you let me know. And he goes around the room. He looks each in the eye and asks them to affirm these directions. The authors write that he considered this a kind of oath.

MARTÍNEZ: It sounds like a Tom Clancy novel. I mean, it just sounds like that just from thinking about it. All right. Let's turn to the actions of former Vice President Mike Pence, who eventually certified the results of the election. But what does this book say happened before that?

STANLEY-BECKER: That's right. The former vice president did ultimately make the decision not to stand in the way of the process. What the authors show is that that was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Mike Pence was looking for ways, thinking through ways, of acting differently. And one of the things he did as part of that process was to call Dan Quayle, a former vice president and fellow Indiana Republican, and say, are there any grounds to do this, pointing to these legal challenges? Can the certification be delayed in any way? And Quayle was adamant. He told him, absolutely not. The Constitution is clear. It leaves you no room to do anything else. And the former vice president ultimately comes around to that view. But it's quite an extraordinary exchange in which he's talking through options.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Washington Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker, thank you very much for taking the time.

STANLEY-BECKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.