Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley on Tuesday addressed for the first time publicly allegations from a recently published book, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The book, published last week, alleges Milley had two backchannel calls with his Chinese counterpart on October 30, 2020, and January 8, 2021, to reassure him the United States was not going to attack China and if it was, he would give China a heads-up. Another allegation was that Milley held a meeting with senior military leaders and told them not to follow orders from Trump unless he was personally notified.
Milley defended the calls, saying, “I routinely communicated with my counterpart, Gen. Li, with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight.”
“These military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the United States in order to deconflict military actions, manage crisis and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s most deadliest weapons,” he continued.
Milley said the calls were coordinated “before and after” with then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s staffs, and a readout was provided to the interagency.
He said the “specific purpose” of the calls were generated by “concerning intelligence” which caused the U.S. to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.
On the first October 30 call, Milley said he knew Trump was not going to attack the Chinese and he was directed by Esper to convey that intent to the Chinese.
“My task at that time was to deescalate. My message again was consistent, to stay calm, steady, and deescalate. We are not going to attack you,” he said.
He did not address his alleged comment to Li from the book, which was, “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise. It’s not going to be a bolt out of the blue.”
He said eight people were on the call.
Milley said the Chinese requested the second call on December 31, for January 8, and 11 people were on that call, and a readout was distributed to the interagency that same day. He said shortly after his second call ended, he briefed then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and then-Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller.
Milley said later that same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him to inquire about Trump’s ability to launch nuclear weapons.
“I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president,” he said.
Milley claimed he told her the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, but there are “processes, protocols, and procedures in place.”
“I repeatedly assured her that there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch,” he added.
He justified his actions:
By presidential directive, and secretary defense directive, the chairman is part of the process to ensure the president is fully informed when determining the use of the world’s deadliest weapons. By law, I am not in the chain of command, and I know that. However, by presidential directive and DOD instruction, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my legal statutory role as the president’s primary military adviser.
He said after that call, he convened a meeting in his office with key members of his staff to “refresh all of us on the procedures which we practice daily at the action officer level.”
He said he also informed Miller of Pelosi’s call. “At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself in the chain of command. But I am expected, I am required to give my advice, and ensure the president is fully informed on military matters.”
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