Gen. Mark Milley on Friday defended his controversial phone calls with his Chinese counterpart in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, insisting they were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Milley, in his first public comments on the conversations, contended the “routine” calls were done “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability,” the Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post published excerpts of the upcoming book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which alleges Milley had two secret phone calls with Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the U.S. was not preparing a military strike.
Milley, speaking to an AP reporter and another reporter Friday, said he plans to discuss the issue in greater detail when he testifies at a Senate hearing later this month.
“I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the U.S. military,” Milley said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.”
President Trump and some Republican leaders have called Milley’s actions “treacherous” and “treasonous.”
Trump said Tuesday many people who called him immediately after the report was published were “saying that’s treason.”
Alexander Vindman – the retired lieutenant colonel who testified against President Trump during the first impeachment – said Tuesday that Milley must resign.
“He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military,” Vindman wrote on Twitter.
“It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that.”
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs issued a statement arguing that the chairman “regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense” of various nations.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who called Milley’s actions “treacherous,” reacted: “If these are normal phone calls, like the kind he makes every night, then why is this a story?”
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in a Fox News interview that if the secret calls are confirmed, Milley should be removed as chairman and court-martialed.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Okla., said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends” that Congress will “ensure” that Milley addresses the report.
Biden has said he has “great confidence” in Milley’s leadership. At the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Jen Psaki said the “context” of the remarks was the “outgoing president of the United States during this period of time fomented unrest, leading to an insurrection and an attack on our nation’s capital, on January 6th.”
‘General Li, I want to assure you’
In “Peril,” the authors report the Joint Chiefs chairman spoke with the Chinese defense chief Li on Oct. 30 amid growing tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea and Trump’s tough rhetoric toward Beijing. A U.S. intelligence review concluding that the communist regime suspected the U.S. was preparing a military strike prompted the phone call.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be OK,” Milley allegedly told the PLA general. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
Li is the chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, which is nominally regarded as China’s supreme military policy-making body.
Woodward and Costa report that Milley was disturbed by the Capitol riot and “was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.”
Milley, according to the book, feared Trump might “go rogue,” and the general told his top staffers, “You never know what a president’s trigger point is.”
Milley’s fears were shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was publicly asking Milley to prevent “an unhinged president from using the nuclear codes.”
Pelosi, according to the book, told Milley in a private conversation that Trump “has been crazy for a long time.”
Milley reportedly replied, “I agree with you on everything.”
Woodward and Costa also report that the general instructed NSA director Paul Nakasone and CIA Director Gina Haspel to “aggressively watch everything” happening at the White House.
The book quotes Haspel saying: “We are on the way to a right-wing coup. This whole thing is insanity.”
The CIA director also accused Trump of “acting out like a 6-year-old with a tantrum.”