Nov 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Generals privately brief news anchors, promise no military role in election

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley sits and listens during a Pentagon briefing
Milley at the Pentagon, Sept. 22. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley held an off-the-record video call with top generals and network anchors this weekend to tamp down speculation about potential military involvement in the presidential election, two people familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: The nation's top military official set up Saturday's highly unusual call to make clear that the military's role is apolitical, one of the sources said — and to dispel any notion of a role for the military in adjudicating a disputed election or making any decision around removing a president from the White House.

  • Milley told the anchors that the U.S. military would have no role whatsoever in a peaceful transfer of power, one source added.
  • One official told the anchors not to be alarmed if they see images of uniformed National Guard members on Election Day; currently, they are not federalized but serving at the request of governors.
  • Through a spokesperson, Milley and the other generals declined comment.

The call follows public speculation by activists and political leaders about the role of the military. Joe Biden recently told the Daily Show's Trevor Noah that he was "absolutely convinced" the military would "escort [Trump] from the White House in a dispatch" if he refused to leave office.

  • Axios did not participate in the call and is not a party to the off-the-record agreement.

Behind the scenes: Two other four-star generals joined Milley on the call: commander of the U.S. Cyber Command Paul Nakasone and National Guard chief Daniel Hokanson.

  • ABC's George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Norah O'Donnell, NBC's Lester Holt, CNN's Jim Sciutto and Fox's Martha MacCallum participated, per one of the sources.
  • The generals talked about military efforts to secure key infrastructure against cyberattacks.
  • They confirmed that foreign actors have tried to influence this election, but said none appears positioned to change votes.

Flashback: Milley testified to Congress in August that "I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military." In the case of a dispute in elections, he said, "by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process."

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