“I continually reminded him,” General Milley is quoted as saying, “depending on where and what you strike, you could find yourself at war.”
Later that day, General Milley spoke to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was growing increasingly concerned Mr. Trump would lash out and use military force.
“This is bad, but who knows what he might do?” Ms. Pelosi said. “He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time. So don’t say you don’t know what his state of mind is.”
“Madam Speaker,” General Milley said, “I agree with you on everything.”
General Milley, who as the president’s top military adviser is not in the chain of command, tried to reassure Ms. Pelosi that he could stop Mr. Trump.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I want you to know that — I want you to know this in you heart of hearts, I can guarantee you 110 percent that the military, use of military power, whether it’s nuclear or a strike in a foreign country of any kind, we’re not going to do anything illegal or crazy,” he said.
“Well,” Ms. Pelosi said, “what do you mean, illegal or crazy?”
“I can give you my word,” General Milley said. “The best I can do is give you my word and I’m going to prevent anything like that in the United States military.”
After speaking to Ms. Pelosi, General Milley convened a meeting in a war room at the Pentagon with the military’s top commanders, telling them that he wanted to go over the longstanding procedures for launching a nuclear weapon. The general reminded the commanders that only the president could order such a strike and that General Milley needed to be directly involved.
“If you get calls,” General Milley said, “no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.”
The general added: “The strict procedures are explicitly designed to avoid inadvertent mistakes or accident or nefarious, unintentional, illegal, immoral, unethical launching of the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
Then, he went around the room and asked each officer to confirm that they understood what he was saying.
Twelve days later, General Milley said, he thought he might be one of the happiest people at Mr. Biden’s inauguration because Mr. Trump had finally left office.
“We know what you went through,” Mr. Biden told General Milley shortly before the inauguration. “We know what you did.”
While much had been reported about General Milley’s views of Mr. Trump, the book’s depiction of Mr. Pence revealed for the first time the depths that the vice president went to as his fealty to Mr. Trump collided with calculations about his political future and the counsel of his aides and advisers to follow the Constitution.
In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Mr. Pence called Mr. Quayle, the only living Republican vice president forced to certify an election in which he was on the losing ticket.
Mr. Pence told him that the president was convinced that Mr. Pence could throw out the election results in order to keep himself in power.
“Mike, you have no flexibility on this,” Mr. Quayle told Mr. Pence. “None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”
“I know, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell Trump,” Mr. Pence said. “But he really thinks he can. And there are other guys in there saying I’ve got this power.”
Mr. Pence then echoed Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud. “Well, there’s some stuff out in Arizona,” Mr. Pence said.
“Mike, I live in Arizona,” Mr. Quayle said. “There’s nothing out here.”
Matthew Cullen contributed research.
Michael S. Schmidt is a Washington correspondent covering national security and federal investigations. He was part of two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 — one for reporting on workplace sexual harassment and the other for coverage of President Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. @NYTMike