Milley defends appeals to Chinese as effort to avoid conflict

IN DEVELOPMENT … The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 3 times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top US military officer on Wednesday defended phone calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, saying the conversations were in line with his duties Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a written statement, General Mark Milley’s spokesman Col. Dave Butler said Milley had acted within his authority as the highest-ranking uniformed adviser to the President and Secretary of Defense.

“His appeals with the Chinese and others in October and January were consistent with these reassured duties and responsibilities in order to maintain strategic stability,” Butler said. “All of the president’s calls to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Defense Department and the interagency.”

Milley’s phone calls were described in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says that Milley told General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a US attack.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden has full confidence in Milley.

“The president worked alongside President Milley for almost eight months,” Psaki said. “His experience with him has been that he is a patriot, he is someone who is loyal to the constitution and he has confidence in its leaders.”

THIS IS A CURRENT UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

WASHINGTON – Fearing the actions of Donald Trump in his final weeks as president, the top military officer in the United States has twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations will not suddenly go to war a senior defense official said after describing the conversations. in excerpts from a forthcoming book.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that the United States will not strike. A call was made on October 30, 2020, four days before the election that beat Trump. The second call came on January 8, 2021, just two days after the uprising on the United States Capitol by supporters of the outgoing CEO.

Trump said Milley should stand trial for treason if the report was true.

Milley went so far as to promise Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of an American attack, according to the book “Peril,” written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book. Details of the book, due out next week, were first reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the US government is stable and that everything will be fine,” Milley told him on the first call, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct kinetic operations against you.”

“If we’re going to attack, I’ll call you ahead. It won’t be a surprise, ”Milley reportedly said.

According to the defense official, Milley’s message to Li on both occasions was a message of comfort. The official questioned suggestions that Milley told Li he would call her first, and instead said the president pointed out that the United States was not going to suddenly attack China without any warning. – whether through diplomatic, administrative or military channels.

Milley also spoke to a number of other defense chiefs around the world in the days following the January 6 riots, including military leaders from the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A reading of those calls in January referred to “several” other counterparts he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the US government was strong and in control.

The second appeal was to allay Chinese fears regarding the events of January 6. But the book reports that Li was not so easily appeased, even after Milley promised him, “We’re 100 percent stable. Everything is fine. But democracy can sometimes be botched.

Trump responded on Tuesday with a scathing statement calling Milley a “fool” and insisting he had never considered attacking China.

Still, he said if the report was true, “I guess he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have dealt with his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and told China that he was doing them. would give notification ”of an attack. ‘ I can not do that !

“Action must be taken immediately against Milley,” Trump said.

Milley believed the president suffered mental decline after the election, sharing the view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they had on Jan.8, officials said.

Pelosi had previously said she told Milley that day about “available precautions” to prevent Trump from launching military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she had received assurances not specified that there were long-standing guarantees.

Milley, according to the book, called on the admiral overseeing US Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises. He also asked senior officers to take an “oath” that Milley was to be involved if Trump gave the order to launch nuclear weapons, according to the book.

Officials in January and Tuesday confirmed that Milley spoke with Pelosi, which was made public by the Speaker of the House at the time. Officials said the two spoke about existing and long-standing safeguards in the process of a nuclear strike. An official said on Tuesday that Milley’s intention to discuss the process with his staff and commanders was not an attempt to subvert the president or his power, but to reaffirm procedures and ensure they are understood by everyone.

It is unclear exactly which military exercises were postponed, if any. But defense officials said the military was more likely to postpone a planned operation, such as freedom of navigation in transit by a US Navy ship in the Pacific region. Defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Milley was nominated by Trump in 2018 and then drew the president’s ire when he expressed regret for participating in a June 2020 photoshoot with Trump after federal law enforcement cleared a park near the White House of peaceful protesters so Trump could stand in a damaged church nearby.

In response to the book, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday urging him to fire Milley, saying the general was working to “actively undermine the incumbent Commander-in-Chief.”

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the report “deeply concerning,” telling reporters on Capitol Hill: “I think the first step is for General Milley to answer the question of what he said exactly”.

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Said he was not concerned that Milley had overstepped his authority, telling reporters that Democratic lawmakers “were circumspect in our language, but many of us made it clear that we we were counting on him to avoid the catastrophe that we knew could happen at any time.

A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to comment.

Milley’s second warning in Beijing came after Trump sacked Defense Secretary Mark Esper and held several high-level positions with acting officials loyal to him.

The book also offers new insight into Trump’s efforts to retain power despite losing the election to Biden.

Trump refused to concede and made false claims that the election was stolen. He repeatedly urged his vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to certify the results of the January 6 Capitol election, the event which was later interrupted by the crowds.

Pence, writes the book, called Dan Quayle, a former vice president and Republican colleague from Indiana, to see if there was a way he could agree to Trump’s request. Quayle said absolutely no.

“Mike, you don’t have any flexibility on this. Nothing. Zero. Forget. Put it away, ”Quayle said, according to the book.

Pence finally agreed. He challenged Trump to assert Joe Biden’s victory.

Trump was not happy.

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this,” Trump replied, according to the book, later telling his vice president, “You betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.

“Peril” describes Trump’s relentless efforts to convince Attorney General William Barr that the election was stolen. Barr reportedly told Trump: “The Justice Department cannot take sides, as you know, between you and the other candidate. According to the book, Barr had determined that the allegations about the rigged voting machines “did not bear fruit.” Barr also expressed his distaste for Rudolph Giuliani and others, insisting that Trump won, calling them a “clown car.”


Associated Press editors Hillel Italy in New York and Lisa Mascaro and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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