Washington (AP) – The top US military official on Wednesday defended phone calls made to his Chinese counterpart in the turbulent final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, saying the talks were aimed at “reassuring” the Chinese military and their responsibilities as president. were consistent. of Joint Chief of Staff.
Some in Congress accused General Mark Milley of overstepping his authority and urged President Joe Biden to sack him, but Biden indicated on Wednesday that he stood behind Milley.
“I have a lot of confidence in General Milley,” Biden said when asked by a reporter if Milley had done the right thing.
In a written statement, Milley’s spokesman, Colonel Dave Butler, said Milley acted within his authority as the most senior uniformed adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense.
“His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were reassuring to maintain strategic stability while keeping these duties and responsibilities in mind,” Butler said. “All calls from the President to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and Interagency.”
The phone calls received were described in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says Milley told General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a US attack.
Milley was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Trump in 2019 and retained by Biden. He does not command any soldier found in that position but is an adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense.
Woodward and Costa’s book reports that in his final weeks as president, Milley, intimidated by Trump’s actions, twice called his Chinese counterpart to reassure him that the United States was not going to attack China. A call took place on October 30, 2020, four days before the election, in which Trump was defeated. The second call took place on January 8, 2021, less than two weeks before Biden’s inauguration and just two days after Trump’s supporters revolted at the US Capitol.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book. Details of the book, which is due to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.
Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Wednesday, September 1, 2021. [Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
Trump said Milley should be tried for treason if it was true that Milley had promised Lee that he would warn him in the event of a US attack.
“General Lee, I want to assure you that the US government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him in the first call, according to the book. “We’re not going to attack you or do any kinetic operations.”
“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s no surprise,” Milley reportedly said.
In his statement on Wednesday, Miley’s spokesman did not directly address this aspect of the call, but said that Miley regularly communicates with his counterparts around the world, including China and Russia, to reduce tensions, provide clarity and To avoid “unexpected consequences or conflict”.
Milley spoke with many other military leaders around the world in the aftermath of the January 6 riots, including in the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A readout of those calls in January refers to “several” other counterparts he spoke to with similar messages of assurance that the US government was strong and in control.
The second call was to allay Chinese fears about the events of January 6. But the book points out that Lee was not so easily pacified, even though Miley had promised him: “We are 100 percent stable. Everything is fine. But democracy can be sloppy at times.”
Trump on Tuesday dismissed Milley as “dumbass” with a sharply worded statement and insisted he never considered attacking China.
Still, he said that if the report was accurate, “I think he would be prosecuted for treason, in which he would be dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and telling China to ‘attack him’.” Will inform’. ‘ Can’t do that!”
Trump said, immediate action should be taken against Milley.
Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the election, agreeing with a view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call that took place on January 8, according to officials. According to the book, Milley also asked senior officials to take an “oath” that Milley was to attend if Trump ordered the launch of nuclear weapons.
In the statement on Wednesday, Milley’s spokesman said Milley provided senior officials “to remind uniformed leaders at the Pentagon of long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject” regarding the nuclear weapons protocol. did. Butler, the spokesman, appeared on January 8, referring to news reports of a Mille-Pelosi phone call. Butler did not say whether Milley insisted he was part of the nuclear weapons process.
Pelosi said earlier that she had spoken to Milley that day about the “precautions available” to prevent Trump from launching military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and told aides he had been given unspecified assurances. That for a long time there were security measures.
According to the book, Milley called the admiral overseeing the US Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific, and recommended the postponement of upcoming military exercises.
It is not clear whether, if any, the military exercise was actually postponed. But defense officials said it was more likely that the military postponed a planned operation, such as freedom of navigation by a US Navy ship in the Pacific. Defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.
In response to the book, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday urging him to sack Milley, saying the general acted to “actively undermine the current commander in chief.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the report “deeply concerning,” telling reporters at the Capitol, “I think the first step for General Milley is to answer the question of what he really said.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was not concerned that Milley had exceeded his authority, telling reporters that Democratic lawmakers “were observant in our language, but many of us did It made it clear that we were counting on him to save us. Disaster that we knew could happen at any moment.”
Associated Press writers Hillel Itali in New York and Lisa Mascaro and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.