Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at a Pentagon briefing on Aug. 18, 2021. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
By Brett Davis September 17, 2021 at 1:34pm
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Friday publicly defended for the first time calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final tumultuous months of Donald Trump’s presidency, calling them “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job.
Speaking to The Associated Press and another reporter traveling with him to Europe, Milley described such calls as “routine,” saying they were done “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability.”
“I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the U.S. military,” Milley said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to get into in a couple of weeks.”
The nation’s highest-ranking and most senior military officer is scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28, along with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Milley has been the subject of controversy following the release earlier this week of excerpts from a new book, “Peril,” by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa that reveal Milley spoke with People’s Liberation Army Gen. Li Zuocheng on Oct. 30, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021, and that former President Trump was not made aware the calls took place.
Milley told Li during the first call — made on the eve of last year’s presidential election — that he would give China a warning in the event of a U.S. attack, according to Woodward and Costa.
The second call — coming just two days after the Capitol incursion in Washington, D.C., during congressional certification of Electoral College results — was meant to, according to the book, assuage Li’s fears of U.S. government instability.
News of the conversations sparked calls for Milley’s resignation from some Republicans who have accused the general of subverting civilian control of the military.
Did Gen. Mark Milley undermine civilian control of the military?
At least three senators and nine members of the House of Representatives are calling on Milley to resign or be fired based on revelations in the book, New York Daily News reported.
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have been especially critical of Milley.
I don’t care what you think of President Trump, the Chairman of the JCOS working to subvert the military chain of command and collude with China is exactly what we do not accept from military leaders in our country. He should be court martialed if true. https://t.co/cqWo2rXLEC
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 15, 2021
I hope reports of Gen. Milley reaching out to his Chinese counterpart to undermine a sitting President is proven false
Because if this is true it wasn’t an act of patriotic heroism
It was an act of treachery that posed a grave risk to our security & our constitutional order pic.twitter.com/vvLE5gtN8j
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 15, 2021
Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vidman, who testified against Trump during the former president’s first impeachment trial, has called for Milley to step down.
If this is true GEN Milley must resign. He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that. #dotherightthingintherightway https://t.co/izsMMCFPrz
— Alexander S. Vindman (@AVindman) September 14, 2021
However, defense officials have since suggested Milley’s calls were not made in secret, in comments to Politico and Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin.
A senior defense official told Politico the description of the first call is “grossly mischaracterized.”
DoD records show Gen Milley’s call was coordinated with OSD. On Jan 1 talking points for the call were shared with OSD. Jan 4 OSD coordinated the call. On Jan 6 the Deputy Assist Sec of Defense for China held a call with his Chinese counterpart. Milley call with Gen Li was Jan 8.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 16, 2021
Milley previously denied through his spokesman any claims his actions undermined civilian control of the military.
“Gen. Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution,” Army Col. David Butler said in a Wednesday statement reported in the Military Times.