A new story of the gob-smacking dysfunctional the Pentagon in the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency has just been revealed.
According to Jonathan Karl’s new book Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of the Grand Old Party, a 30-year-old staffer, John McEntee, who had been a “loyalty monitor” until he hung around the Pentagon after the election, drew up an order for Trump that dramatically changed the U.S. military’s posture on the globe.
It appears that in the waning days of the Trump administration, Trump wanted to pull out of Afghanistan. McEntee may have had bigger ideas.
After the election, McEntee was very involved in one of the most terrifying aspects of the Trump term. Trump fired the Sec. of Defense – Mark Esper – with only two and a half months remaining in his term. McEntee also put Christopher Miller in place and the recruiting of Miller’s senior adviser, Douglas Macgregor.
It was when McEntee wandered over to the Pentagon – a place he had NO experience with or in, and wrote a list of what Trump should do in the final days of his presidency — a list that included withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa.
“Three days after Macgregor arrived at the Pentagon, he called McEntee and told him he couldn’t accomplish any of the items on their handwritten to-do list without a signed order from the president.”
To understand what McEntee nearly pulled off, if an order was issued to implement just 10% of what this political appointee attempted, it would typically first go through the National Security Council, with input from the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military commanders in the region.
Meaning everyone — including the president.
McEntee and his small group were so out of their depth they didn’t even know how to format the order correctly and had to get help. A retired colonel told the thirty-year-old staffer to open a cabinet, find an old presidential decision memorandum, copy it, and have Trump sign it.
Trump didn’t fully understand what he was signing.
He sent it to Kash Patel, then the Secretary of Defense’s Chief of Staff, and the matter promptly blew up.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley looked at the order and immediately knew something was very wrong. He asked Patel:
“Who gave the president the military advice for this? Did you do this?”
“No,” Patel answered. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Milley turned to the acting defense secretary.
“Did you give the President military advice on this?”
“No. Not me,” Miller answered.
Milley said that his job required him to provide military advice to the commander-in-chief, and that they needed to see Trump immediately
“Okay, well, we’ve got to go over and see the president. I’ve got duties to do here, constitutional duties. I’ve got to make sure he’s properly advised,” Milley demanded.
And with that, Miller and Milley went to the White House to see Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security advisor.
“Robert, where’s this coming from?” Milley asked O’Brien. “Is this true?”
“I’ve never seen it before,” O’Brien told him.
Keith Kellogg, the national security advisor to Vice President Pence, said, “Something is really wrong here,” as he read through the order. “This doesn’t look right.”
“You’re telling me that thing is forged?” Milley responded in disbelief. “That’s a forged piece of paper directing a military operation by the president of the United States? That’s forged, Keith?”
NO – it wasn’t forged, but it didn’t go through any of the normal processes, and that made Trump’s signature null and void, unenforceable.
Trump, likely too busy planning his response to his election fraud claims, then just dropped the matter.
It’s amazing that Trump came into office attempting to draft a presidential order banning Muslims from certain countries and couldn’t do that right, and went out the door unable to get a presidential order right, both as a substantive matter or even correctly formatted.
The country benefitted from the incompetence on both orders.
This column is based on original reporting by Jonathan Karl in Vanity Fair.
I can be reached at email@example.com and on X @JasonMiciak.
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.