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Milley defends ‘absolute’ loyalty to US, says Trump officials knew of calls with China

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley maintained his “absolute” loyalty to the United States Tuesday, and said he made top Trump administration officials aware of calls with his Chinese counterpart, despite reports to the contrary. 

Milley, in his opening statement during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, addressed allegations that he held “secret” calls with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army in October 2020 and days after the Capitol riot in January 2021. 

Milley has faced calls to resign since the revelations were made public earlier this month. The book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa claims that Milley contacted Li after he had reviewed intelligence that suggested Chinese officials believed the United States was planning an attack on China amid military exercises in the South China Sea. The book claims Milley contacted Li a second time to reassure him that the U.S. would not make any type of advances or attack China in any form. 

Milley, on Tuesday, addressed the allegations, saying he has served the U.S. for 43 years. 

“My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give,” Milley said. “My loyalty is absolute, and I will not turn my back on the fallen.” 

Milley, went on to deliver a point-by-point rebuttal to the claims in the book, saying he “routinely communicated” with his counterpart “with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight.” 

“I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense Guidance, Policy Dialogue System,” Milley said. “These military to military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the United States in order to deconflict military actions, manage crisis and prevent war between great powers armed with nuclear weapons.” 

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Milley explained that the calls, which took place on Oct. 30, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021, were “coordinated before and after” with then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s staffs, as well as the interagency. 

“The specific purpose of the October and January calls was generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack by the U.S.,” Milley explained. 

Milley added: “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.” 

“My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message was consistent: calm, steady, de-escalate,” Milley said. “We are not going to attack you.” 

For the October 2020 call, Milley said it took place at Esper’s direction, and said “eight people sat in on the call with me.” 

Milley said on Dec. 31, 2020, the Chinese requested a call with him. Milley testified that the deputy assistant of Defense for Asia Pacific policy “helped coordinate my call, which was scheduled for 8 January.” 

“Shortly after my call ended with Gen. Li, I informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the call among other topics,” Milley said. “Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting Secretary Miller where I briefed him on the call.” 

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Milley went on to address other allegations included in the book, regarding his conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Milley acknowledged that Pelosi called him on Jan. 8 to “inquire about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons” following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. 

“I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process,” Milley said, noting Pelosi was “concerned and made various personal references characterizing” then-President Trump. 

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“I explained that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority but he doesn’t launch alone,” Milley said. “There are processes, protocols and procedures in place and I repeatedly assured her there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch.” 

Milley explained that he, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, “is part of this process to ensure the president is fully informed when determining the use of the world’s deadliest weapons.” 

“By law, I am not in the chain of command,” Milley said. “However, by presidential directive and DoD instruction, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my statutory role as the president’s primary military adviser.” 

Milley said, following his call with Pelosi, he “convened a short meeting in my office with key members of my staff to refresh on these procedures, which we practice daily at the action officer level,” and added that he “immediately informed Acting Secretary of Defense Miller of her call.” 

“At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed,” Milley said. 

Milley went on to offer lawmakers “a more detailed unclassified memorandum of my actions surrounding these events,” and offered a classified session to discuss intelligence which “motivated these actions and the specific timeline.” 

“I am also happy to make available all emails, phone logs, memoranda, witnesses or anything else you need to better understand these events,” Milley said.

“My oath is to support the Constitution of the United States of America, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will never turn my back on the oath,” Milley said. “I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle essential to this republic and I am committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics.” 

Milley’s comments come amid calls for his resignation, including from former acting Defense Secretary Miller. Miller said he “did not and would not ever authorize” Milley to have “secret” calls with his Chinese counterpart, describing the allegations as a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination,” and calling on him to resign “immediately.”

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President Biden, though, has said he has full confidence in the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

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