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‘Worry of a coup’: Revelations from Bob Woodward’s new book ‘Peril’ about the transition from the Trump to Biden administration

The book "Peril" by authors Bob Woodward and Roberta Costa is seen for sale in a bookstore on Sept. 21 in Los Angeles.CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Following up on his previous books about former president Donald Trump — “Fear” and “Rage” — Bob Woodward has returned with a third volume, this time chronicling the rocky transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations.

The famed investigative journalist teamed up with another Washington Post reporter, Robert Costa, for “Peril,” which looks into how the transfer of power occurred — covering everything from the 2020 campaign season to the beginning of the Biden presidency.

The book already has made headlines for an explosive revelation regarding General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reportedly called his Chinese counterpart twice to reassure him that the United States was not planning an attack during the waning months of Trump’s time in office.


Here is a look at some of the more telling scenes in the book, and the lengths Trump went in his quest to overturn one of the most secure elections in American history.

The book details the souring relationship between Trump and William Barr

After Biden had been declared the winner of the presidential election, Barr reportedly visited Trump at the White House in late November, telling him that he “did a great job there at the end, and it’s too bad it worked out the way it did.”

But Trump pushed back, insisting that “we won.”

“We won by a lot. And, you know, it’s fraud. Bill, we can’t let them get away with this,” Trump said, according to the book. “This is stealing the election. I hear that you guys are hanging back. You’re not — somehow you don’t think it’s your role to look at this.”

Under the direction of Barr, US attorneys in five states where the numbers were close — Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania — had been asked to “look at the big-ticket items, when someone made an allegation of systemic fraud that could affect the outcome,” according to the book. Barr had told the attorneys to conduct preliminary analysis and inform him if there was “anything there and sufficient grounds.”


“But the problem is this stuff about the voting machines is just bullshit,” Barr said. Trump again rejected the facts Barr presented to him. He proceeded to pull out charts and other materials he had gathered from friends and advisers to give to Barr.

Barr tried to reason with Trump on multiple occasions, according to the book. During that meeting in November, he tried to convey to the former president that he “should focus on what matters.”

Meanwhile, in private, Barr was questioning what the endgame was. Soon after that conversation with Trump, he asked Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to his father-in-law at the time, and Mark Meadows, then the White House chief of staff, “How long is this going to go on? This is getting out of hand.”

Later, when Barr told a reporter the Justice Department found “nothing” on election fraud, Trump had Barr meet him in his private dining room in early December, where he confronted him about his response, according to the book.

“You must have said that because you hate Trump, you must really hate Trump,” Trump reportedly said to Barr. After Barr assured the president that he did not “hate” him, he railed against Trump’s legal team — comprised of those including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — according to the book.


“What you needed was a team of crackerjack lawyers ready to go who could quickly formulate a strategy that would actually be able to say, ‘We’re going for these votes here, these votes here, and here’s our argument here,’ and execute,” Barr reportedly told Trump. “Instead, you have wheeled out a clown car. Every self-respecting lawyer in this country has run for the hills. Your team is a bunch of clowns.”

Barr resigned later that month.

McConnell had a fraught relationship with Trump — and hoped to never speak to him again after their final conversation

As then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell watched as the general election campaigns played out among candidates, he thought the “Biden campaign was clever in styling him as a moderate — the calm grandfather from Delaware versus a wild Republican incumbent,” according to the book.

“Being Donald Trump” was enough for him to lose in November, McConnell reportedly told others. “Trump’s personality was his biggest problem and from a personality point of view, Joe was the opposite of Trump,” he said.

After the national media began reporting that Biden had won the presidential election, McConnell was not surprised, according to the book. But he reportedly decided he would give Trump room to “let off steam and not publicly recognize Biden as president-elect” for the time being, fearing that Trump “might react negatively and upend” the runoff Senate elections in Georgia, which Republicans needed in order to keep the majority and his position as majority leader.

But eventually, the Electoral College vote was enough for McConnell, according to the book. He reportedly called Meadows on the morning of Dec. 15 — a day after Barr resigned — to tell him to give Trump a “heads-up that [he was] going to acknowledge that Biden won.” He went to the Senate floor shortly thereafter and said that “the Electoral College has spoken,” and that he wanted to “congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”


Trump called him immediately after and “spewed expletives,” according to the book. He reportedly claimed that the only reason McConnell had won his reelection bid in Kentucky was because of his support.

“You never really got me,” Trump reportedly told him. “You don’t understand me.”

“You lost the election. The Electoral College has spoken,” McConnell reportedly told Trump. He then hung up, and according to the book, “hoped it would be the final time he and Trump would ever speak to each other.”

Pence turned to former vice president Dan Quayle for advice on dealing with Trump and his efforts to overturn the election

Toward the end of last December, then-vice president Mike Pence reportedly called up a fellow Indiana Republican who had also ascended to the No. 2 position in the White House for some advice: Dan Quayle, who at 74, was “living the private, golf-playing life he loved in Arizona,” according to the book. Pence was seeking his guidance because despite the Electoral College having cast its ballots for Biden, “Trump was convinced that Pence could throw the election to Trump on January 6, when Congress certified the final count,” according to the book.

“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle reportedly told Pence. Quayle, according to the book, believed that Trump’s efforts to convince Pence to act in his favor “could precipitate a constitutional crisis.” After pressing Quayle a couple of more times to see if it was even faintly legal to put a pause on the certification “if there were ongoing court cases and legal challenges,” he eventually relented and “agreed acting to overturn the election would be antithetical to his traditional view of conservatism,” according to the book.


“You don’t know what position I’m in,” Pence reportedly told Quayle.

“I do know the position you’re in,” Quayle reportedly responded. “I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power. So just forget it.”

Republican Senators Graham and Lee agreed to look into Trump’s election fraud claims but were unconvinced

Throughout the book, Senator Lindsey Graham is reported to have sung Trump praises or issued impassioned statements in his defense. At one point, for instance, the South Carolina Republican reportedly told Trump that he is “going to be a force in American politics for a long time,” and at another, that no one else in “American history is going to leave office as powerful as you are.”

So strong were his convictions in Trump that despite having tried to previously convince him he could not change the outcome of the election, Graham agreed to take a meeting on Jan. 2 with Giuliani, according to the book. Meadows had arranged the meeting in his White House office so that Giuliani and his team “could brief Graham, in his capacity as a lawyer and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” on the supposed voting fraud issues they had found, according to the book. Republican Senator Mike Lee also began his own personal investigation into Trump’s election fraud allegations at this time.

“Giuliani offered a computer expert who presented a mathematical formula that demonstrated the near impossibility of a Biden win,” according to the book. “Several states had recorded more votes for Biden than previous votes for Obama in 2008 and 2012,” and since polling revealed that Obama had been more popular in those states, it was almost “mathematically impossible for Biden to outpace Obama in raw numbers,” the expert reportedly maintained.

After listening to Giuliani and his team lay out their claims, Graham pressed them for hard evidence, according to the book. But when he looked over the memos that were sent, he was not impressed.

“Third grade,” Graham reportedly said.

On the same day as Graham’s meeting, Lee reportedly received a two-page memo from the White House that was authored by legal scholar John Eastman, who was working with Trump. The memo spoke of alternative slates of electors, which reportedly “shocked” the Utah Republican.

“Lee was surprised [the memo] came from Eastman, a law school professor who had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” according to the book. The memo also outlined a “procedural action by the vice president to throw out tens of millions of legally cast ballots,” which reportedly made Lee’s head spin as no such procedure exists in either the Constitution or law.

“Eastman had also thought ahead to the certain outrage and worry of a coup,” according to the book. “That was their ballgame. Either have Pence declare the winner, or make sure it is thrown to the House where Trump is guaranteed to win.”

Lee reportedly interpreted what he was reading to be “a mess.”

During the insurrection, Milley told a sheltering Democratic House member he thought Trump ‘wanted this’

As a mob of Trump supporters laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst in Iraq and top Pentagon official during the Obama years, made a phone call to Milley, according to the book.

“Mark, you need to get the [National] Guard down here,” the Michigan Democrat reportedly told him. She proceeded to ask if it was true that Trump had refused to send in assistance, as that “possibility was flying around Capitol Hill.”

Milley reportedly said that he “purposefully did not go to Trump,” but informed Pence instead, who “welcomed” him sending in the National Guard.

“I think he wanted this,” Milley reportedly told Slotkin. “I think that he likes this. I think that he wants that chaos. He wants his supporters to be fighting to the bitter end.”

The general quickly added: “I don’t know.”

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.