The top US military officer told Congress yesterday he knew former president Donald Trump was not planning to attack China and it was his job to reassure the Chinese of that fact in phone calls that have triggered outrage from some lawmakers.
rmy General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended two calls he made to his Chinese counterpart, saying he was responding to “concerning intelligence” that China was worried about a US attack.
“I know that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese and it was my directed responsibility to convey presidential orders and intent,” Gen Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.”
Gen Milley has been at the centre of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him the US would not suddenly go to war with or attack China. Details of the calls were first aired in excerpts from the recently released book, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
Some US lawmakers have said Gen Milley overstepped his authority, and they have called for President Joe Biden to fire him. Mr Trump blasted Gen Milley as treasonous, called him “a complete nutjob” and said he “never told me about calls being made to China”.
In his most extensive comments to date, Gen Milley said the calls on October 30 and January 8 were coordinated with the defence secretaries at the time and other US national security agencies.
They came during Mr Trump’s turbulent last months in office.
Gen Milley said the October call was made at the direction of then defence chief Mark Esper; the second was done at the request of the Chinese and coordinated with then-secretary Chris Miller’s office.
He also addressed a call he received from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She had “called me to inquire about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons”.
He said he assured her that while the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, “he doesn’t launch them alone”.
“There are processes, protocols and procedures in place and I repeatedly assured her there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorised or accidental launch,” Gen Milley said.
“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 that the president is fully informed.”