General Mark Milley, the top US military officer, yesterday defended calls with China that have raised Republican demands for his resignation, saying he had been aiming to ease tension with Beijing and not to “usurp authority.”
The remarks were Milley’s first detailed defence of his actions since a book detailed what it described as “secret” calls with General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army on October 30, 2020 and again on January 8.
The book cited Beijing’s concerns that then-president Donald Trump could spark a war with China as his potential election loss loomed, and in its aftermath.
Milley broadly confirmed the premise of the account but dismissed the idea that the calls were secret, saying they had been co-ordinated with the US government.
“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,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“My message again was consistent: calm, steady, de-escalate. ‘We are not going to attack you.’”
President Joe Biden has supported Milley throughout the controversy surrounding the calls, saying he had “great confidence” in him.
It is the latest controversy surrounding the top US military officer, who caused an uproar last year after accompanying Trump toward a church for a photo opportunity after authorities cracked down on civil rights protesters. He later said he regretted it, saying it created a perception of a military involved in domestic politics. Milley publicly confirmed intelligence that caused US officials to believe China was “worried about an attack” by the US.
Milley acknowledged that he spoke on January 8 with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, according to the Washington Post, had asked the general what safeguards were in place to prevent an “unstable president” from launching a nuclear strike.
“He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy,” Pelosi told Milley, the newspaper reported, citing a transcript of the call.
Milley, in his remarks to Congress, said Pelosi had asked him on January 8 about whether Trump’s actions might lead to an accidental nuclear missile launch.
He responded by assuring her of safeguards and added: “I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the US.”
Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command.”
Trump, in a statement, has said he “never even thought of attacking China.” But after the initial account of Milley’s calls with China surfaced, Trump said Milley should be fired if they were true.
Trump had ‘Music Man’ to calm his rages: book
An aide dubbed the “Music Man” was tasked with playing calming tunes for Donald Trump when he went into rages, according to a scandal-filled book by a former press secretary. Stephanie Grisham, notorious for not giving a single televised press conference while serving as Trump’s chief spokeswoman, writes in I’ll Take Your Questions Now that her boss went into “terrifying” rants. The former president and his wife Melania have vociferously condemned the book, excerpts of which appeared yesterday in The New York Times and Washington Post. Current Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington branded Grisham a “disgruntled former employee” and said the book is “full of falsehoods.” However, as a longtime insider in the tumultuous Trump years, Grisham’s book is attracting attention ahead of its publication next week.
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