Top general Milley reassured China, others in secret calls as Trump pushed election lies, spokesman says

Politics

WASHINGTON — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley placed two phone calls to his Chinese counterpart in the waning months of Donald Trump’s presidency to secretly reassure Beijing that the United States would not attack the country, a spokesman for Milley confirmed Wednesday.

The calls were first reported in the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (L) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Li Zuocheng salute during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing on August 16, 2016.
Mark Schiefelbein | AFP | Getty Images

“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,” said the spokesman, Col. Dave Butler.

All of Milley’s calls were coordinated with the rest of the Department of Defense and other relevant agencies, Butler added.

Milley did not tell Trump about the calls.

Woodward and Costa describe how Milley learned in October 2020 that the Chinese had become concerned that Trump would preemptively attack China because Trump was losing the 2020 election and his rhetoric against China was growing increasingly hostile.

Milley again called his Chinese counterpart on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, to again reassure him that the American government was stable and not an immediate threat to China.

Milley’s spokesman also appeared to confirm that Milley talked with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the days following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, to assure her that safeguards were in place to prevent Trump from launching nuclear weapons or ordering the military to somehow try to keep him in power after he lost the election.

He told Pelosi that “there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell this president, or any president can launch nuclear weapons illegally, immorally, unethically without proper certification,” according to the book.

After the call, Milley, who “felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump,” held a meeting with senior officers of the National Military Command Center to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, according to the book.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley pauses at a news briefing at Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, August 18, 2021.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

The revelations sparked outrage among some Republicans, including Trump, who suggested that Milley had committed a crime by going behind the then-president’s back to communicate U.S. policy to foreign adversaries.

But they do not appear to have damaged Milley’s standing with Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden.

When a reporter asked Biden on Wednesday whether Milley did “the right thing,” Biden replied: “I have great confidence in General Milley.”

“Peril” is set to be released Tuesday.

— CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this article.

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