Woodward: 'The Chinese thought we were going to attack them before the 2020 election'

Journalists Bob Woodward and Carol Leonnig, along with conservative attorney George Conway, join Yahoo News' "Skullduggery" podcast for a special live recording. During the discussion, Woodward sheds light on the grim atmosphere behind the scenes in the Pentagon during the final months of the Trump administration, revealing that the Chinese government had serious concerns that the U.S. would provoke a war. "General Milley and people in the Pentagon were not just disturbed, [they] were apoplectic about it, and apoplectic about Trump and his mental state," said Woodward.

Video transcript

BOB WOODWARD: My God, the Chinese thought we were going to attack them before the 2020 election? And General Milley and people in the Pentagon were not just disturbed, were apoplectic about it and apoplectic about Trump and his mental state, to the point that Milley was telling Nancy Pelosi, don't worry, everything's going to be fine.

And she would say, well, Trump's crazy. He could set off nuclear weapons. No, don't worry. And then he gets off the phone call and realizes she has a point and calls in the watch officers in the National Military Command Center of the Pentagon who, 24/7, monitor what's going on in the world and authorities that might come for military action or the use of nuclear weapons.

And Milley's so worried, he calls them in and says, we have a procedure here where I'm, as chairman, supposed to be involved. I want to make sure that you will observe that procedure. And he goes around the room. Got it? Yes, sir. Got it? Got it? Do yo understand? I will be called and included--

GEORGE CONWAY: I mean, this is the point I wanted to get to, which is, it's less important that Donald Trump be prosecuted than it is that we reform the operation of the 25th Amendment, Section 4, because Section 4 of the 25th Amendment permits Congress to designate a body other than the cabinet to set it all in motion.

And I mean, the fact of the matter is, when you have a guy who's deranged in this way, the way that Trump is, having the cabinet which is beholden to him start the ball rolling on determining that he's mentally unfit for office does not work. And some mechanism has to change. That's the point that I take away from--

Actually, it was one of the main points I take away from both of these books is, we've got to get that fixed.

DANIEL KLAIDMAN: What would you propose, just taking it--

GEORGE CONWAY: Well, I mean, Nancy Pelosi, maybe more for show than anything else, in 2019 proposed some kind of a committee or somebody to look at the question of what legislation, pursuant to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, could be adopted. We need singular focus on that.

And I think it ought to be one of the focuses of the January 6 committee, which if you actually look at some of the document requests they made, there's document requests that they say, all documents relating to discussions about the 25th Amendment and the mental state of the president. That's all in there on purpose. And that's one of the things that, I think, the January 6 committee, if it does nothing else, needs to say something about.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The 25th Amendment, as written now, requires the consent of the vice president to trigger removal of the president. And in this particular administration, until the very last couple of weeks, there was zero chance of getting Vice President Pence's support.

- Isn't there another failsafe, which is five members of the cabinet?

- You still need the vice president.

- You still need a majority of the cabinet.

- But this initial question of who's in the cabinet when you have all these-- when you have--

BOB WOODWARD: We don't have a system. Sorry, but we do not have a system that is sufficient and adequate to control nuclear weapons. Anyone who knows about this, studies it, former secretaries of defense have been quite clear that the president, determined, can, whatever procedures they have and so forth, can start a nuclear war.

And think about that authority. And do we really want a system where the president can do this in a practical sense? Something's got to be thought about and worked.

GEORGE CONWAY: Yeah, I mean, we're depending on people in uniform to basically say, if I push this button, it's going to be a war crime and to basically disobey orders for a President of the United States. I mean, that's what we're relying on.

CAROL LEONNIG: And Milley actually also did something else, which we reported in our book, because he was worried about an order that would be unethical and dangerous to national security. He can reject an order from the president that's illegal, but he can't reject one that's nuts. And so he created a whole system which doesn't exist, which was he had a special meeting with all of his Joint Chiefs, Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine, and said you guys, we're each going to throw our bodies in front of a dangerous national security decision, including a nuclear one.

And the way we will do it is serially resign. Demand to be to give our best military advice, have our hearing and audience with the president, and then we'll resign and slow roll that decision.

GEORGE CONWAY: It's the "Cain Mutiny" with plutonium. I mean, that's what it is.

BOB WOODWARD: Yes, right. Rather than been strawberry, right.

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