Taylor said then-Defense Secretary James Mattis cornered him one day after a Situation Room meeting.
“‘You all need to prepare like we’re going to war,’ he warned. Mattis was serious. DHS should assume the homeland was in mortal danger.”
The Department of Homeland Security took a step it had never taken before, according to Taylor, who is best known for writing an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times in 2018 describing a “quiet resistance” in the Trump administration “of people choosing to put country first.”
“We convened every top leader in DHS to discuss the brewing crisis,” he writes in the new book, which is set for release on July 18. “Experts walked through various scenarios of a nuclear strike on the U.S. homeland, dusted off response plans, and outlined best-case scenarios which nevertheless sounded horrifically grim. I cannot provide the details, but I walked out of those meetings genuinely worried about the safety of the country. In my view, the department was unprepared for the type of nuclear conflict Trump might foment.”
Chris Krebs, a top DHS official at the time, confirmed that in 2017, department officials looked at how they would respond to a nuclear strike on the United States.
“There was certainly a sense that there was a non-zero chance and therefore we should take the appropriate and reasonable steps of assessing readiness for such an attack,” Krebs told POLITICO.
On Nov. 28 that year, North Korea tested a missile that could have reached the continental United States. The test spurred fear throughout the U.S. government, including at DHS. Then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke monitored it from a secure conference room, Taylor added, and he spoke with her after the test. She told him the president had called her in the wake of the launch. But it wasn’t to talk about North Korea. Rather, he wanted to talk about DHS’s upcoming decision on whether to extend temporary legal protections for Hondurans who came to the United States.
“Although a nuclear-capable missile had just ripped through the skies, the president’s mind was on the border,” Taylor’s book says. “He wanted DHS to ‘deport them all,’ Elaine recounted.” Duke, however, decided to extend those legal protections.
DHS’s scramble to prepare for a nuclear strike was a first, according to Taylor.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that DHS thought there was the possibility, however remote, of Trump actually starting a war and us having to prepare for the nuclear fallout in the homeland,” he told POLITICO in an interview.
In his 2018 New York Times op-ed, Taylor called Trump’s leadership style “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” In 2019, he wrote a book anonymously exploring the theme. And in 2020, he endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and revealed himself as the anonymous author.