“For him to meddle in any political appointment violates the very definition of what the chairman is supposed to be: an apolitical, uniformed military officer,” says Kash Patel.
In this episode, Kash Patel responds to reports that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff against installing Patel as deputy of the CIA. We also take a look at reports that Milley was allegedly concerned about a coup at the end of Trump’s presidency.
Kash Patel: Hey everybody and welcome back to Kash’s Corner. Thanks for joining us today.
Jan Jekielek: Kash, today I think we have to talk about this: the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, this was reported, basically stepping in to speak up against a potential appointment that you might have had while you were in the Trump administration.
Mr. Patel: First, we have to just quickly go over what the responsibilities of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff are. It’s very clear in the law, in the statute cited by the joint chiefs of staff website themselves, that he is an advisor to the president of the United States for military matters, that’s it. The law was created in 1947.
A decade later, Congress amended the law to state that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has no executive operational control whatsoever. Why did they do that? It’s because since the founding of our country, our United States military has always been led by a civilian. And by law, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is the highest serving uniformed military officer, so he cannot conduct operational authority or combatant command authorities anywhere in the world.
Mr. Jekielek: Basically, you’re telling me here that the generals in the military and in the armed forces don’t report to him in any way?
Mr. Patel: Well, they seek his advice through the joint staff, as they call it. He’s the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and they seek his advice on military matters through that entire system, which is massive; it’s enormous. Uniformed officers serve there under, but they do not, and by law cannot, seek the chairman’s approval on operational matters. That has to go to the secretary of defense.
The national command authority is very clear, it goes from the president of the United States, to the secretary of defense. The chairman has no role in the national command authority by law.
Mr. Jekielek: What’s the rationale behind that? I mean, it might be obvious to some but not necessarily to all.
Mr. Patel: Sure. I think it speaks to what our founding fathers did in setting up the military. And it’s always been that way. The United States military is led by a civilian, at all times. The secretary of defense has always been a civilian. Now, he could have served in the military prior to his role as secretary of defense, but it is not a uniformed officer that is serving at the top the Department of Defense.
The president, as commander-in-chief of those forces, is also a civilian, because our founding fathers wanted to ensure that the military did not run the United States government and that the military did not do what it did in other countries around the world in history, which is take over governments.
Mr. Jekielek: So how is it that he’s weighing in on the potential appointment of Kash Patel to a role?
Mr. Patel: Well, be it me or any other individual who a president is going to appoint or considering appointing as a high level cabinet officer, that by law is a political appointment. Again, by law, the chairman has no role in politics. For him to meddle in any political appointment violates the very definition of what the chairman supposed to be, an apolitical uniformed military officer.
Mr. Jekielek: You might get the impression, looking at numerous media, that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is in fact, the head of the military.
Mr. Patel: Yes, and it’s totally false. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is not the head of the military. He is the head of the joint chiefs of staff, which are a uniform division of military officers that sit within the Pentagon and the Department of Defense. But again, the head of the Department of Defense and the United States military is the secretary of defense, and the commander-in-chief above, and that’s it.
There is no legislation or law that inserts the chairman, any chairman, this one or otherwise, into the national command authority.
Mr. Jekielek: Some people might say these are unusual circumstances or something like this.
Mr. Patel: Well, they might. But that’s the whole point of the law. It’s that it has to be followed in usual and unusual times. For the media, or many in the media, to interject salacious headlines that trigger false narratives to be created—such as this one, that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has operational authority or has the ability to influence the president’s political appointees—is reckless and contradicts our Constitution and the laws that were set up to run the Department of Defense.
Mr. Jekielek: How does the chain of command actually work?
Mr. Patel: That’s a great question. I don’t think people have focused on it at all. The chain of command for purposes of national security matters goes from the president of the United States, to the secretary of defense, and then the secretary of defense issues orders throughout the world based on his combatant commit, what are called combatant commanders.
Those are four star generals in charge of different regions of the world. Then the chain of command continues below them.
For instance, say the president decides to do a hostage rescue operation. What happens is the president and only the president can determine whether or not to implement the United States military to go to country X or location Y. Once that decision is made, the secretary of defense then takes over under the national command authority, and based on where the raid or rescue operation is supposed to occur, then the individuals under that chain of command continue the operational execution of what the president said.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff’s role in all this is to advise the president on whether or not doing that hostage rescue operation is safe, isn’t going to endanger lives on the ground. Is it going to endanger U.S. military? Or is it going to cause a reaction of a foreign government that would violate American interests or American national security interests? That’s how the chain of command works.
I’ll give you an example of something that I was involved with specifically, and that was the Baghdadi raid. At the time, I was running counterterrorism at the White House under president Trump. Obviously, we were very involved with the hunt for the world’s biggest terrorist at the time.
What happens is, once you get to a certain point where you think you know where that individual is, you take it to the president to say, “Are we going to utilize the United States military to conduct a raid and try to kill al-Baghdadi?”
On major decisions of national security, the president obviously has a number of advisors that go to him, specifically, his national security adviser, the secretary of defense, individuals that are running places like the CIA and the NSA, and of course his senior military adviser, which is the chairman of joint chiefs of staff, by statute.
So on a day like we’re addressing with Baghdadi, what happens is there’s a lot of work by a ton of individuals that precede the time you take the material to the president.
Then this group of individuals gets together at the White House, like we did. I was there on that day. They briefed the president on the latest intelligence, the upside, the downside, the positives and negatives, what could go wrong, and how they see it going. Then, after the president digests all that information, including what the chairman of joint chiefs of staff has to say, then the president makes a decision on whether you go or you don’t go.
On this day, as we all know, the president ordered the raid on al-Baghdadi. For an event like the al-Baghdadi raid, what happens is the president convenes an NSC, a National Security Council meeting, where he himself, the president, on this rare occasion convenes with his secretary of defense, his national security adviser, the chairman, and other heads of intelligence agencies and senior folks at the White House to make a determination at the White House whether or not this is something that they want to engage in.
On this occasion, because of the level of importance of going after al-Baghdadi, it was one in which the president convened and kept his National Security Council in place at the White House through the entire raid, while watching it. Because in a situation like this that is so dangerous, the president is the only one who is able to call it off because of a safety issue that comes up.
Should there be a safety issue that comes up, he’s the only one that can override anything that is being advised to him in terms of do we go or not? He’s the commander-in-chief. So that’s the perfect outline of how the national command authority goes from the president to the secretary of defense to the commanders on the ground overseas. In this case, it was obviously in Syria.
That is how the chain of command works. Nowhere in that chain of command, be it the Baghdadi raid or otherwise, does the law give the authority to the chairman to issue executive action.
Mr. Jekielek: These advisors fit in at different points in this chain, or is it all in one one place just directly to the president?
Mr. Patel: Right, in circumstances like this specific one, everybody’s sort of in one place because the matter is such high level national security interest that the president saw fit to convene his National Security Council and lead it himself. That is step one of the process.
Step two is the execution of the national command authority, which the law calls it, from the president to the secretary of defense to the ground level commanders who are running operations.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff does not run ground level operations, Congress removed that authority from him in the 1950s. They have no executive command authority whatsoever.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s also interesting, because it’s been suggested that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff might have some sort of control over the nuclear codes or nuclear launch or something like that.
Mr. Patel: I think it does the American public a great disservice when you have members of Congress improperly characterizing the roles of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. These would be the nuclear arsenal. When you have elected officials, who are in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and they are talking to the American people through the media, stating that the chairman has operational control there, they are telling the American public a total falsehood.
He does not have that authority. He never has. And unless the Congress changes the statute entirely, he never will. Too many Americans now have been misinformed. And unfortunately, it’s large media that is allowing such bad information to be publicized, so it’s hard to correct the record.
Mr. Jekielek: It was also reported that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff described January 6th as a ‘Reichstag moment’, so to speak. Now, I find it really difficult to fathom how someone could make this sort of comparison.
Mr. Patel: I think it’s beyond reprehensible that the highest uniformed military officer is on the record, or has testified to Congress, about comparing January 6th to Nazi Germany. I don’t see any way in which it is appropriate to talk about people who were protesting and compare them and analogize them to individuals that killed millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. I don’t know that there is a more worst comparison that he could have picked.
Mr. Jekielek: The connection being made here was that this Reichstag fire … in pre-Nazi Germany was what gave Hitler the opportunity to consolidate power and basically takeover.
Mr. Patel: I get what he thought he was trying to do. But what he was doing was inflaming the tensions of the media, panicking in his role, and pandering to the incoming administration. I believe the chairman was looking to keep his job. That’s not the role of the chairman. It’s to provide military advice to the president.
Comparing any movement in the United States to pre-Nazi Germany or Nazi Germany or otherwise is wholly inappropriate for the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to be doing, period. He is politicizing the role as the highest uniformed officer in the land. It is supposed to be 100 percent apolitical.
Mr. Jekielek: It was also reported that he was concerned about a possible coup. I guess sometime after the election, you were instructed to proceed with the transition of power. Were your instructions changed with respect to this at any point until January 20th?
Mr. Patel: No, the instructions from the White House after the election were very clear: proceed with the transition in full force. There was no instruction that modified that at any point in time, and there was no instruction from the White House to talk about a coup or talk about President Trump staying in the Oval Office or utilizing the military to stay in the Oval Office.
The instructions from the White House were very clear. And that was to transition the Department of Defense, which I was helping run at the time, to the next incoming administration. We spent thousands of man hours with a large group of individuals, conducting interviews, setting up meetings, providing access to the Biden team for Pentagon spaces, and giving them clearances.
We produced millions and millions of documents for them to review, both classified and unclassified, so that America’s number one mission, it’s national security mission, could continue. Metric by metric, we engineered and ran the largest and most expensive transition of power from one DOD to another, and we’re very proud of that.
And if you look back at the media during the time we were conducting the transition, they were making political attacks at individuals responsible for leading it. What we cared about was the transition. If you now look back at it, there’s not one complaint at the Department of Defense as to how we handled the transition of power.
Mr. Jekielek: So this doesn’t sound anything like the language about a coup that we heard a lot about in January.
Mr. Patel: Yes, that language was unfortunately thrown around by military officers and the media and government officials as if it were actually happening. But anyone that was involved in the transition process knew that there was no possibility of a coup and that it was just inflaming the American public’s view of the Department of Defense, improperly and in contravention of what we were actually doing, which was running a transition.
When you throw around terms “coup” and “juntas” and stuff like that, that’s what happens overseas in other less civilized nations.
I go back to what one of the first things we talked about, Jan, which was the reason that a uniformed officer does not run the United States military. The reason that a civilian runs the United States military. It’s so that the military cannot be taken over and commandeer the White House. There’s a pretty big irony in some of the media narratives surrounding the coup.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking about January 6th, there’s the January 6th Commission that now has been stood up. As I understand it, there was discussion that perhaps Republicans weren’t going to participate. It looks like now they are.
Mr. Patel: Yes, I think just this week, the Republican leader Kevin McCarthy appointed six Republican members of the House to serve on this committee that is being led by the Democrats to supposedly conduct an investigation surrounding the events of January 6th, but I don’t think that that’s what’s going to occur.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so, let’s go back a little bit. This is supposed to be modeled on the 9/11 Commission right?
Mr. Patel: Yes. Look, the 9/11 Commission is the gold standard for congressional bipartisan investigations. Republicans, Democrats, and independents got together, after one of the worst terrorist attacks to ever be perpetrated on American soil, and basically said: we need to figure out how did we miss this? And how do we prevent it from happening in future? A super righteous mission that everyone agreed on had to occur.
They produced a report after years of investigations. It was shocking in the sense that there was a lapse in intelligence sharing amongst U.S. agencies. There was a lot of hope that the 9/11 Commission provided in making sure those problems did not occur again, so that we’re not attacked in that fashion again. That’s what an investigation is supposed to look like.
But the environment’s totally different [now]. And we’re not talking about a terrorist attack. Even though certain outfits in the media have compared January 6th to sedition or treason or something like that.
I think the only purpose of this commission right now in these times is to continue a political narrative. Unless this bipartisan group of individuals is going to actually produce documents for the American people to see that were created on or before January 6th, governing what happened and have witnesses testify under oath who actually knew what was going on, then I don’t see an actual bipartisan commission coming together to help the America understand what happened on January 6th.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s say Kash Patel would actually be organizing this commission. We’ve been doing this thought experience. You have some sense of what happened, how the 9/11 Commission worked. In order to get the desired result of a commission like this for January 6th, what would you need to happen?
Mr. Patel: You would actually need both Republicans and Democrats to have equal authorities in terms of subpoenaing documents and calling forth witnesses in directing the investigation based on the facts and evidence that were discovered and not for politicization of an unfortunate event in January.
And there’s a couple of other examples, not just the 9/11 Commission to show you how bad these things can go. The Benghazi panel, another bipartisan commission, became very politicized, unfortunately again, speaking to another tragic terrorist attack against the United States.
Also having personal experience having run the Russiagate investigation for Congress, I know how politicized that investigation got. We were able to get out a lot of information to the American people, which is the ultimate goal of congressional oversight, so there’s still a way forward. But it’s a tough road in this political environment, this highly charged political environment.
Mr. Jekielek: What exactly would they need to do? What evidence do they need to look at? What would happen?
Mr. Patel: Well, they just need to be on equal footing. And that’s not what this commission is set up to do. The Democrats have all the authority; the Republicans don’t. That’s a problem in and of itself when there’s a different agenda, I believe, for the purpose of this commission.
It’s not stood up to find out what actually happened. It’s not being stood up to actually use Congress’s oversight authority to go into these different government agencies, i.e. the DOD, and get the documents necessary to show the American public what happened. I don’t think that’s the point of it.
It’s not being utilized to have individuals testify at Congress who were in charge of the Department of Defense, who were in charge of the FBI and the CIA at the time, who were working at the White House to see what actually happened. Was there ever an actual possibility of a coup? I just don’t think that we’re going to get there with this setup.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s say there was equal authority. Okay, what would happen?
Mr. Patel: You would have an agreement on witnesses that will come in from across the government agencies that are either still in or were in at the time. You would have the government agencies themselves, DOJ, FBI, CIA, and DOD, produce all the documents that were requested from the commission, so that we can have a collection, a database, of everything that transpired surrounding January 6th.
Then you would conduct these interviews under oath, under penalty of perjury. Then the sides would collect all that information and put it into a report for the American people like the 9/11 Commission did, and then distribute that report literally to the world.
Now, there might be a classified version of it and unclassified version of it, based on some of the intelligence. You’d probably also wanna do a declassification process for some of the underlying documents so you can send those out on their own, so the American people can see the documents themselves and not just the report. I mean, that’s how I would do it all if we were running a congressional oversight investigation of this nature.
Mr. Jekielek: Your concern is that the witnesses won’t be brought in under oath, and they won’t be the right set of witnesses.
Mr. Patel: Yes, my bigger concern is the latter. I think any witness that’s going to testify is going to have to testify under oath, so I’m less concerned about that. What I am concerned about is the actual witnesses who come forward or who are called to testify at Congress. I think that process will become overly politicized and selective.
Instead of inviting the heads of the separate agencies and departments and their deputies to come in and tell you what actually happened, there’ll be a selection from one or two places to allow political media narrative to continue. That hurts the American public, and it also is not what congressional oversight is set up for.
Mr. Jekielek: From the Republican perspective, based on everything you’ve told me, this doesn’t seem to be a very positive picture. Why do you think the Republicans are joining the commission in this sort of circumstances as you describe it?
Mr. Patel: Well, I think they have to, because not joining the commission would be worse than joining it in a limited capacity, which is what’s going on here. Not having the same authorities as the Democrats have on the commission speaks to the actual nature of this not being bipartisan. That’s the number one focal point I would look at.
But you still have to have Republicans on the panel to at least participate in the questioning to make requests that are, I think, probably going to be denied or ignored, but at least they’re there to represent Republican interest surrounding the January 6th events.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you think we’ll ever know what happened?
Mr. Patel: I think we already know what happened. There are timelines out there. There’s information out there to show what actually happened. The Department of Justice has spoken a lot about these through their prosecutions.
What some in politics and some in media want to just do is continue a politically explosive narrative. That’s what I think this commission is going to continue. Allow to continue, I should say, instead of looking at the simple facts and the simple facts were, no one committed treason or sedition.
There was no coup planned by the United States government or members of the United States military or the White House or commander-in-chief. Unfortunately, tragically, individuals died on this day. But now unpacking that as we have, none of the individuals who died, died as a result of conduct from people who are “trying to overthrow the United States Congress.”
Mr. Jekielek: As we finish up, I think it’s time for a shout out.
Mr. Patel: Yes, that’s right. And we are going to give this week’s shout out to First Sergeant Eric White of the Maryland State Police Department and his division over at the LaPlata Barracks. Thank you for your support to Kash’s Corner. But more importantly, thanks, Eric, to you and your team for your decades-long service in law enforcement.
Mr. Jekielek: All right, we’ll see you all next week on Kash’s Corner.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.