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Milley On Calls To China: I Wasn’t Trying To ‘Usurp’ Trump, ‘Certain’ He Wouldn’t Order Attack On China

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times)
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via Getty Images

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Pentagon’s top military officer, said he knew for “certain” that former President Donald Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese before reportedly promising China he would give a warning in such a case.

Milley defended himself in person while testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Milley spoke in front of the committee along with several other top military and defense leaders about the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reported in their book “Peril” that Milley had made two “secret” phone calls to his Chinese counterpart during the final months of the Trump administration. Milley reportedly promised Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that Milley would send a warning should Trump order a preemptive strike on the Chinese.

Milley contested parts of the story. He said that he coordinated the calls with former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former acting Secretary Chris Miller’s staffs. Milley asserted that he made the calls to “de-escalate” and reassure the Chinese, who had gained bad intelligence of a possible U.S. strike, and not to undermine then-President Trump.

Esper defended Milley’s conduct amid the backlash and calls to resign sparked by the reporting in “Peril.” Miller denied ever being made aware about Milley’s second call to China in January.

Milley reported in his written testimony:

The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after with Secretary Esper and Acting Secretary Miller’s staffs and the interagency. The specific purpose of the October and January calls was generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an imminent attack by the U.S.

I know, I am certain, President Trump did not intend on attacking the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility – to convey presidential orders and intent. My job at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: calm, steady, deescalate. We are not going to attack you.

At Secretary of Defense Esper’s direction, I made a call to General Li on 30 October. Eight people sat in the call with me, and I read out the call within about 30 minutes of the call ending.

On 31 December, the Chinese requested a call with me. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Policy helped coordinate my call which was scheduled for 8 January. 11 people attended the call with me. Read-outs of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day.

Shortly after my call ended with General Li, I informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting Secretary Miller where I briefed him on the call.

Later in his testimony, Milley stated, “at no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the President is fully informed.”

Related: Report: White House Told Gen. Milley To Pursue Russia’s Help In Combatting Terrorism In Afghanistan After U.S. Withdrawal

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