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Milley Defends Calls to Chinese        09/16 06:04

   The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday defended the phone calls he made 
to his Chinese counterpart in the turbulent final months of Donald Trump's 
presidency, saying the conversations were intended to convey "reassurance" to 
the Chinese military and were in line with his responsibilities as chairman of 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday defended the 
phone calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the turbulent final months of 
Donald Trump's presidency, saying the conversations were intended to convey 
"reassurance" to the Chinese military and were in line with his 
responsibilities as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

   Some in Congress accused Gen. Mark Milley of having overstepped his 
authority and urged President Joe Biden to fire him, but Biden indicated 
Wednesday he stands behind Milley.

   "I have great confidence in Gen. Milley," Biden said when asked by a 
reporter whether Milley had done the right thing.

   In a written statement, Milley's spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, said Milley 
acted within his authority as the most senior uniformed adviser to the 
president and to the secretary of defense.

   "His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in 
keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order 
to maintain strategic stability," Butler said. "All calls from the chairman to 
his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and 
communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency."

   The Milley phone calls were described in excerpts from the forthcoming book 
"Peril" by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book 
says Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People's Liberation Army that he would 
warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack.

   Milley was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2019 by Trump and kept 
on by Biden. In that position Milley does not command any troops but rather is 
an adviser to the president and to the secretary of defense. John Kirby, 
spokesman for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, said Austin has "complete and 
utter trust and confidence in Gen. Milley."

   The book by Woodward and Costa reported that Milley, fearful of Trump's 
actions in his final weeks as president, twice called his Chinese counterpart 
to assure him that the United States was not going to attack China. One call 
took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that Trump lost. The 
second call was on Jan. 8, 2021, less than two weeks before Biden's 
inauguration and just two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by 
supporters of Trump.

   The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book. Details from the book, 
which is set to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington 
Post on Tuesday.

   "General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and 
everything is going to be okay," Milley told him in the first call, according 
to the book. "We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations 
against you."

   "If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not 
going to be a surprise," Milley reportedly said.

   In his statement Wednesday, Milley's spokesman did not directly address this 
aspect of the call but said Milley regularly communicates with his counterparts 
across the globe, including in China and Russia, to reduce tensions, provide 
clarity and avoid "unintended consequences or conflict."

   Milley spoke with a number of other military leaders around the world after 
the Jan. 6 riot, including from the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A 
readout of those calls in January referred to "several" other counterparts that 
he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the U.S. government was 
strong and in control.

   The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 
6. But the book reports that Li wasn't as easily assuaged, even after Milley 
promised him: "We are 100 percent steady. Everything's fine. But democracy can 
be sloppy sometimes."

   On Tuesday, Trump said Milley should be tried for treason if it was true 
that he had promised Li that he would warn him in the event of a U.S. attack. 
In a follow-up statement Wednesday, Trump called Milley "a complete nutjob" and 
said he "never told me about calls being made to China."

   "He put our Country in a very dangerous position but President Xi knows 
better, and would've called me," Trump added.

   Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the election, 
agreeing with a view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they 
had Jan. 8, according to officials. Milley also asked senior officers to swear 
an "oath" that Milley had to be involved if Trump gave an order to launch 
nuclear weapons, according to the book.

   In the statement Wednesday, Milley's spokesman said Milley had conferred 
with the senior officers about nuclear weapons protocols "to remind uniformed 
leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light 
of media reporting on the subject." Butler, the spokesman, appeared to be 
referring to news reports of the Jan. 8 Milley-Pelosi phone call. Butler did 
not address whether Milley had insisted he be part of the nuclear weapons 
procedures.

   Pelosi had previously said she spoke to Milley that day about "available 
precautions" to prevent Trump from initiating military action or ordering a 
nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she was given unspecified assurances 
that there were longstanding safeguards in place.

   Milley, according to the book, called the admiral overseeing the U.S. 
Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific 
region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises.

   It's not clear what, if any, military exercises were actually postponed. But 
defense officials said it is more likely that the military postponed a planned 
operation, such as a freedom of navigation transit by a U.S. Navy ship in the 
Pacific region. The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity to 
discuss private conversations.

   In response to the book, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent Biden a letter 
Tuesday urging him to fire Milley, saying the general worked to "actively 
undermine the sitting Commander in Chief."

   Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the report "deeply concerning," telling 
reporters at the Capitol, "I think the first step is for General Milley to 
answer the question as to what exactly he said."

   Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he had no concerns that Milley might have 
exceeded his authority, telling reporters that Democratic lawmakers "were 
circumspect in our language but many of us made it clear that we were counting 
on him to avoid the disaster which we knew could happen at any moment."

 
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