America’s top general on Tuesday vehemently defended his Jan. 8 phone call with Chinese military leaders, telling lawmakers that he was “certain” then-President Donald Trump wouldn’t order an attack on Beijing and wanted to convey that reassuring message to his Chinese counterparts.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, pushed back on the narrative that he went around Mr. Trump out of fear the president might order an attack on China during his final days in office.
Some Republicans have called for Gen. Milley‘s resignation, accusing him of trying to circumvent civilian leadership of the military by having such discussions.
But Gen. Milley pushed back hard on those attacks.
“I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance,” he said. “These military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical for the security of the United States in order to deconflict military actions, manage crises and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
Gen. Milley specifically addressed two calls with Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng, the first on Oct. 30 and the second on Jan. 8, two days after pro-Trump supporters had stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“The specific purpose of the October and January calls were generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe that the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States,” he said. “I know, I am certain, President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese, and it was my direct responsibility to convey that intent to the Chinese. My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message, again, was consistent: ‘Stay calm, steady, de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.’”
The calls were revealed in a recent book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The book includes a claim that Gen. Milley was so worried about Mr. Trump‘s mental state that he assembled top military leaders and advised them not to launch a nuclear strike — even if it was directly ordered by Mr. Trump — unless he was there.
Gen. Milley also had a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Mr. Trump‘s mental state following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to the book.