A report from Vanity Fair, based on an excerpt from the book “Tired of Winning” by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, reveals a shocking incident involving a fabricated presidential directive during the final days of Donald Trump’s administration.
The key figure in this episode is Johnny McEntee, a young Trump aide referred to as the president’s “body guy” due to his role in carrying Trump’s bags. According to Karl, McEntee, described as Trump’s “ultimate loyalist,” gained considerable influence within the White House and even participated in major personnel decisions, such as suggesting the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
In the closing days of Trump’s presidency, McEntee allegedly created a fake handwritten to-do list, purportedly directing significant troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Somalia. The list included instructions to:
- Get the U.S. out of Afghanistan.
- Get the U.S. out of Iraq and Syria.
- Complete the withdrawal from Germany.
- Get the U.S. out of Africa.
McEntee reportedly typed up this order, mimicking the language and formatting from an old presidential decision memorandum. Normally, such consequential directives would go through the National Security Council and involve input from civilian and military leadership. However, in this case, it was drafted by McEntee without consultation.
When Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley saw the order, he raised questions about who had provided military advice for it. Unable to find a satisfactory answer, Milley confronted Trump and presented the directive to the national security advisor. However, it was flagged as suspicious, and Milley, along with other officials, sought out the president.
Upon presenting the fake directive to Trump, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and White House counsel Pat Cipollone explained the potential dangers of abrupt troop movements without proper planning. They argued that the order should have gone through established processes and legal reviews. O’Brien reportedly told Trump that the order, lacking proper clearance, was considered null and void.
The report suggests that Trump, with only days left in office before the transition to the Biden administration, did not object to his advisors’ arguments. The incident underscores the unconventional decision-making processes within the White House during Trump’s tenure.
ONCE THE PRESIDENT CONFIRMED HE HAD INDEED SIGNED THE DOCUMENT, O’BRIEN AND CIPOLLONE EXPLAINED TO HIM THAT SUCH AN ORDER SHOULD GO THROUGH SOME SORT OF PROCESS AND THAT AN ABRUPT MOVEMENT OF SO MANY US TROOPS WOULD BE DANGEROUS AND UNWISE WITHOUT PROPER PLANNING. AT THE VERY LEAST, THEY TOLD HIM, SUCH AN ORDER SHOULD BE REVIEWED BY WHITE HOUSE LAWYERS.
“I SAID THIS WOULD BE VERY BAD,” O’BRIEN RECALLED TELLING TRUMP. “OUR POSITION IS THAT BECAUSE IT DIDN’T GO THROUGH ANY PROPER PROCESS—THE LAWYERS HADN’T CLEARED IT, THE STAFF [SECRETARY] HADN’T CLEARED IT, NSC [NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL] HADN’T CLEARED IT—THAT IT’S OUR POSITION THAT THE ORDER IS NULL AND VOID.”