Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley of Friday defended calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final days of the Trump administration as “routine” and necessary to “ensure strategic stability” in a deeply uncertain time.
In his first direct defense of his actions since the revelations included in a new book, Gen. Milley said the calls in late 2020 and early 2021 to a top Chinese general were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job, The Associated Press reported.
Former President Trump and his supporters have been harshly critical of Gen. Milley over reports he reassured a top Chinese general that no U.S. military action was imminent at a time when Mr. Trump was fiercely contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election. According to the book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Gen. Milley made the call in part because of intelligence suggesting the Chinese were worried about a surprise American action against Beijing to distract from the political chaos in Washington.
The book says Gen. Milley effectively promised Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army there would be no surprise U.S. military move. The second China call came on Jan. 8, just two days after a violent clash at the U.S. Capitol in which Mr. Trump‘s supporters tried to halt the certification of his loss to Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden.
The general, in remarks to an AP reporter while on travel to Europe, characterized the calls as “routine” and were placed “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability.”
Mr. Trump has denied any plans for a military attack on China, and Gen. Milley has faced bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill over whether his actions undermined civilian control of the military. Several top Republicans have demanded he step down, though President Biden earlier this week said he retained confidence in the chairman.
Gen. Milley told the AP he would offer a fuller explanation of his actions when he testified before Congress on Sept. 28.
“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,” he said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.”
Mr. Trump named Gen. Milley to head the Joint Chiefs in 2019, and Mr. Biden has kept him on for now. As chairman, the general is the top military adviser to the president and to the defense secretary.