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Gen. Mark Milley said he was carrying out his office duties – without circumventing presidential authority – when he met with his Chinese counterpart shortly before last year’s election, a statement said. Wednesday by the Pentagon.
Milley’s actions during the final months of former President Trump’s tenure grabbed headlines this week after a new book by reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was trying to avoid a potential armed conflict when he called the Chinese general. Li Zuocheng.
The book, Danger, is not yet published. He describes Milley as “fearing that Trump would start war,” according to the Washington Post.
Milley confirms that he spoke to Li and other world military leaders last October and January. But Joint Chiefs of Staff Col. Dave Butler said these communications were part of his normal duties and responsibilities “to provide reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Butler also says Milley did not break protocol in the way he came into contact with Li.
“All of the president’s calls to his counterparts, including those reported, are managed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense” as well as with the interagency pipeline of the US security and intelligence community, said Butler.
The Pentagon did not detail what Milley spoke about in his two conversations with China’s top general – one of which is believed to have taken place days before the US presidential election, the other dating shortly after the January 6 riot and attack on the United States Capitol. by a pro-Trump mob.
Here is how the Posts National political reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker, who has read Woodward and Costa’s book, describes the circumstances surrounding Milley’s actions, in an interview with NPR:
“Milley had reviewed information suggesting that the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack at the time, and he feared a triggering situation in which there could be a miscalculation, or a preemptive strike from China. to try to push this back or get in front of it.
“And at the time, there were tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea; these tensions were compounded by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric towards China during the election campaign. [Milley] tried to allay those fears by saying the United States was stable and not preparing to take on China. “
Responding to reports of Milley’s actions described in the book, Trump and his allies said the general’s behavior was treason.
If the accounts are correct, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., noted, “It was an act of treason that posed a serious risk to our security and our constitutional order.”
Milley was nominated by Trump to be the Pentagon’s top military officer in late 2018. News of his contacts with foreign military officials sparked a series of questions at the White House press conference on Wednesday, in which press secretary Jen Psaki noted that President Biden has now worked with Milley “side by side” for almost eight months.
“His experience with him has been that he’s a patriot,” Psaki said of the president’s relationship with the military leader. “He is someone who is loyal to the Constitution,” she said, adding that Biden “has confidence in [Milley’s] leadership and the role he played in his experience with him.
The Pentagon also confirmed that Milley spoke to a group of U.S. officers about how to handle a potential order to launch a nuclear attack in the wake of the January 6 chaos, when Biden’s victory over Trump was certified.
According to Stanley-Becker:
“Milley was concerned about the controls in the system and making sure there wasn’t some sort of inappropriate, illegal or immoral action, as he told senior officers.
“So what he does on January 8 is summon senior officers to review these procedures, and say to them, ‘The president has the power to decide what to do, but there are other steps, and I must also be made aware of this decision. So, whatever happens, let me know.
“And it’s that remarkable scene in the book, where he goes officer by officer looks them in the eye and asks them to affirm that they understood his instructions.”
Of the meeting, the Pentagon said Milley was doing his job of making sure military leaders were “aware of current issues.”
“The nuclear weapons protocols meeting was intended to remind uniformed Pentagon leaders of the solid and long-established procedures in light of media reports on the subject,” Butler said.
“General Milley continues to act and advise within the framework of his authority in the legal tradition of civilian control of the military and its oath to the Constitution.”
Speaking to the right-wing Newsmax news agency on Tuesday, Trump said: “If that’s really true – which is hard to believe, he would have called China and done these things and was ready to notify them of an attack or in advance of an attack, that is treason. “
Trump has denied ever planning an attack on China.
NPR’s Alana Wise contributed to this story.