June 9, 2020

On Monday Chris Hayes interviewed Dexter Filkins regarding the huge pushback from the US military against Trump's desire to unleash soldiers on Black Lives Matter protestors.

CHRIS HAYES: What is clear is the entire thing is a debacle. "The New Yorker" magazine report is about a shouting match between the president and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about sending military forces into American cities. The writer is here now. Derek, I wonder if you can tell us more about what was going on behind the scenes. We saw a kind of public performance of armed men. We saw the public performance of clearing peaceful protesters with, you know, police officers punching cameramen and pepper balls. What was happening behind the scenes?

DEXTER FILKINS, THE NEW YORKER: Well, it's -- I think that would have been the next day. But so the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Defense Secretary met in -- Mark Esper met in President Trump's office in the Oval Office on Monday, that day when they all -- when we saw those photographs, the president holding the Bible. And the president informs Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, 'I would like to send troops into the cities to stop the protests.' And Milley resisted and said, 'I'm not going to do that. That's for law enforcement. We're not going to send soldiers into the cities.' And they got into a shouting match, as I'm told. And they sort of fought it out. They yelled at each other. Somebody described the room as basically two bullies. And the president backed down. And, you know, the meeting went on for a long time. They were in there for several hours. But at the end of the day, they didn't send the troops into the cities.

HAYES: You know, what's striking to me is that for all -- what I glean from your reporting is as sort of scary and overwrought as the response has been, the men on the Lincoln Memorial, the protesters being cleared, that there was a version of this that this was the tempered version that was -- that was -- that came out of Trump's impulses for something far, far worse and darker.

FILKINS: Well, I think that's pretty clear. I mean, those soldiers that we saw around the Lincoln Memorial and some of the other places and I think the helicopter overhead as well, those were National Guard helicopters. Because it is the District of Columbia, those are under the president's command.

HAYES: Right.

FILKINS: But, no, he wanted to put, as I understand it, he wanted to put United States military troops in American cities across the United States. And that's what the discussion was about. And that's what Milley pushed back on. Now, what's kind of interesting here is that General Milley, as the chairman of the joint chiefs, is actually not in command of soldiers.

HAYES: No, right.

FILKINS: He presides over -- you know, he presides over the Chiefs of the Army and the Air Force. But he doesn't actually command any troops himself. I'm not sure the president knows that, but basically Milley just said forget it. You know, we're not going there.

There is also this, you know, this scene obviously outside that the White House and Barr's decision to clear the protesters has become this very contentious scene. The president, we have heard that part of his desire to flood American cities with a show of force was reporting on him visiting the bunker. And it was just a somewhat comical accidental admission that happened apparently today. Trump had said he was down there to inspect it in the afternoon. Barr today gave a totally different story. Take a listen.


TRUMP: It was a false report. I wasn't down. I went down during the day and I was there for a tiny, little short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection.

BARR: Things were so bad that the secret service recommended that the president go down to the bunker. We can't have that in our country. So the decision was made, we had to move the perimeter one block.


HAYES: Sounds like they did actually say he had to go down into the bunker.

FILKINS: Yeah. I mean, it is hard to know what was happening in there. I mean, at the end of the -- at the end of the day, I ended up talking to Mark Meadows, President Trump's Chief of Staff. And, you know, he kind of -- he said, look, there were a lot of discussions, and they were all very nice, and they went on for hours and hours, but it is hard to know. Look, let me just make a -- I think towards the end of my story, and I tried to bring this up, I think the real -- I think the real question here is November and what's going to happen in November. And, you know, what if we have a close election that's contested? What happens then? What happens if the president refuses to leave the White House? I tried to address some of that. But I think what happened on Monday is interesting because it's a bit of a dry run. So it allows us to kind of talk about some of this stuff in case it happens again.

HAYES: You mean a dry run in terms of a stress test of various parts of the institutional integrity of the nation should the president try to do something wildly in breaking with American democratic traditions?

FILKINS: Yes. I talked to a lot of generals last week, and they all said pretty much the same thing, which is like, look, if we have a contested election, probably the Supreme Court will get involved once they make the call. The whole machinery of the military will kind of turn towards the legally elected president, and there will be no dispute. That's pretty convincing, but I think it's not the whole story. I mean, I think the one general that I spoke to said he was really concerned about the following scenario, which is what if we have a close election? The outcome is in dispute, or it's really, really close and the president refuses to leave, and he calls up -- he calls one of the governors in a conservative state, and he says send the national guard in. You know, pick your state.

HAYES: Right.

FILKINS: 'Send the National Guard to Washington. Surround the White House and protect me. I'm not leaving.' What happens then? And that's a -- you know, that's a really ugly -- that's a really ugly scene. You know, ultimately -- it is also sort of what happened here because a lot of troops you saw were contributed National Guardsmen from various states.

HAYES: Yes, yes.

FILKINS: And, so, I think -- you know, when I listen to that scenario, it's -- I mean, in a way, the president has legal authority to do that. He certainly doesn't have the legal authority to stay in office longer than he -- you know, longer than he may, but that scenario struck me as entirely plausible and pretty disturbing.

HAYES: Yeah, disturbing to say the least. A great reporter, and I'm also happy to be able to read what you are up to. Thank you very much, sir.

FILKINS: Thank you, sir.

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