Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley stands by his decision to privately reach out to senior military officials and his Chinese counterpart in an attempt to keep then-President Donald Trump from dragging the U.S. into war.
Milley’s chief of staff, Col. Dave Butler, said in a statement that the official’s calls with China in October and January were “in keeping with” his “duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Butler also defended Milley’s discussions with senior officials in which he reportedly ordered them to involve him in decisions regarding the country’s nuclear arsenal after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that Trump fomented.
“The meeting regarding nuclear weapons protocols was to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject,” Butler said.
Get TPM in your inbox, twice weekly.
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,” the spokesperson added.
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reported in their new book that Milley contacted his Chinese counterpart, Li Zuocheng, in October and January to reassure him that the U.S. was not planning on striking China. Milley also reportedly gathered senior military officials two days after the Capitol insurrection to make sure he would get involved in case Trump ordered a nuclear strike, according to Woodward and Costa.
The response from Trump and his allies has been predictably explosive: On Tuesday night, the ex-president called Milley a “dumbass” who ought to be tried for “treason,” and denied expressing a desire to attack China.
“The people that fabricated the story are sick and demented, and the people who print it are just as bad,” Trump said in a fiery statement.
While Trump’s remarks are a predictable escalation of the whole ordeal, military experts did tell TPM that there are lingering questions about Milley’s actions and that, on their face, the reported actions could be seen as an erosion of civilian control of the military.
And Trump’s foot soldiers in Congress have seized on initial analyses, demanding Milley’s ouster and similarly accusing the general of treason.
“If the allegations are true, Gen Milley should go down in history as a traitor to the American people,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-TX) tweeted.
“These actions by General Milley demonstrate a clear lack of sound judgement, and I urge you to dismiss him immediately,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested that Milley be “court martialed.”