New book details chaos when Trump aide tried to start Afghanistan withdrawal
ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl on Trump's "body guy."
In his final days in the White House, President Donald Trump tried to launch a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan -- only he wasn't exactly the person giving the orders, according to a new book by ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl.
In "Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of the Grand Old Party," excerpts of which were released in Vanity Fair on Friday, Karl reports that aide Johnny McEntee, known as Trump's "body guy," led a chaotic attempt to reshape the U.S. military posture abroad.
The incident was first reported on by Jonathan Swan of Axios, but Karl provides significant new details.
McEntee, after serving as Trump's "body guy" (or "body man" as some say) -- the staffer responsible for traveling with the president and carrying his bags -- became, at age 30, the director of the Presidential Personnel Office, primarily responsible for overseeing the hiring and firing of executive branch employees, including ensuring staffers were loyal to Trump's political vision.
But after the 2020 election, Karl writes, McEntee took on a greater role -- one that saw him involved in Trump's ousting of Defense Secretary Mark Esper -- replacing him with Christopher Miller -- and the recruiting of Miller's senior adviser Douglas Macgregor.
From there, Karl reports, McEntee wrote a list for 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," Karl writes in the excerpts released by Vanity Fair.
The House Jan. 6 committee’s investigation unearthed the extraordinary story of what happened next, Karl writes, but it wasn't included in the committee's final report. The panel had taken the sworn testimony of the key players, including McEntee and Macgregor, as well as national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
Macgregor advised McEntee the priority should be the Afghanistan withdrawal and that it should be put in a presidential directive. But when McEntee couldn't figure out how to draft such a document, Macgregor told him and his assistant "to open a cabinet, find an old presidential decision memorandum, and copy it," Karl writes.
"Easy enough," Karl reports. McEntee and his assistant "wrote up the order, had the president sign it, and sent it over to Kash Patel, the new acting defense secretary's chief of staff."
But the document caused widespread confusion among top officials.
Miller met with Milley and others to discuss next steps, but Milley quickly questioned who had given Trump such military advice. When no one could say where it came from, he and Miller went to the White House for answers, Karl writes.
When Milley asked O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser, where the document came from, O'Brien said he'd never seen it before. Also at that meeting was Vice President Mike Pence's national security adviser Keith Kellogg, who looked at the order and told the room: "This doesn't look right," according to the excerpts.
"'You're telling me that thing is forged?' Milley responded in disbelief, Karl writes. 'That's a forged piece of paper directing a military operation by the president of the United States? That's forged, Keith?'" Milley said, according to the excerpts.
The group eventually asked Trump directly, who confirmed he'd signed it. O'Brien then told Trump it "would be very bad," Karl writes, and advised him not to follow through with the directive.
"As soon as he realized an Afghanistan withdrawal would require more work than having McEntee scribble up a note, he dropped it entirely," Karl reports.
ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl is the author of two other books on Donald Trump, "Front Row at the Trump Show" and "Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show."
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