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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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A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”

President Trump was almost shouting. He directed his son-in-law and his senior strategist from his private quarters at the White House late on election night. He barked out the names of top Fox News executives and talent he expected to answer to him.

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Epic's long game against Apple

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Epic's Apple lawsuit is costing the company dearly, but the game developer has its eye on a valuable long-term goal: prying tomorrow's virtual worlds loose from the grip of app store proprietors like Apple.

Between the lines: Epic isn't spending a fortune in legal fees and foregoing a ton of revenue just to shave some costs off in-app purchases on today's phones. Rather, it's planning for a future of creating virtual universes via augmented and virtual reality — without having to send a big chunk of their economies to Apple or Google.

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The race to avoid a possible "monster" COVID variant

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Slow global COVID-19 vaccination rates are raising concerns that worse variants of the coronavirus could be percolating, ready to rip into the world before herd immunity can diminish their impact.

Why it matters: The U.S. aims to at least partially vaccinate 70% of adults by July 4, a move expected to accelerate the current drop of new infections here. But variants are the wild card, and in a global pandemic where only about 8% of all people have received one dose, the virus will continue mutating unabated.