Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley didn’t tell then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien about his calls with China’s military during the final months of President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a report.
Pompeo and O’Brien also were unaware of any intelligence that China might suspect a Trump-ordered US attack, as was reportedly the reason for unusual assurances conveyed by Milley, Fox News reports.
Milley, the highest-ranking US military officer, allegedly told his Chinese counterpart that he would provide a heads-up if Trump ordered an attack on China.
“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Milley allegedly told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army on Oct. 30, which critics called a stunning move that undermines civilian control of the military.
Milley called again on Jan. 8, two days after a wild mob stormed the US Capitol to disrupt certification of President Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. The calls are described in a book due for release next week by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
Biden on Wednesday stood by Milley, saying “I have great confidence in General Milley,” and the general’s office said in a statement that Milley “regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia.”
“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,” the statement 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.”
Milley on Friday told reporters the conversations were “routine calls in order to discuss issues of the day, to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case, in order to ensure strategic stability.”
Mark Esper, secretary of defense at the time of the October call, reportedly was aware of the pre-election outreach to China. But Christopher Miller, the acting defense secretary at the time of the second call, said that Milley didn’t get his sign-off and that it “represents a disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination by the Nation’s top military officer.”
Milley previously was accused of undermining civilian control of the military by resisting Trump’s effort to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan before he left office on Jan. 20. That effort ultimately was scuttled by Milley, who reportedly enlisted the help of O’Brien and Miller to plead with Trump to change his mind.
Axios reported that National Security Agency intercepts indicated that Afghan officials believed US military leaders would resist Trump’s exit plans and that a US official who had spoken with Milley told an Afghan official that Milley had no confidence in the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.
Republicans are expected to grill Milley on the reported back-channel with China when he testifies on Sept. 28 before a Senate committee about Biden’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan.