Then-President Donald Trump‘s last secretary of defense said Wednesday that he did not sign off on a call from Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to his Chinese counterpart days after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Christopher Miller, who led the Pentagon on an acting basis between the 2020 presidential election and the inauguration of Joe Biden, told Fox News that Milley’s action “represents a disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination by the Nation’s top military officer”.
The Jan. 8 phone conversation between Milley and People’s Liberation Army Gen. Li Zuocheng is detailed in the forthcoming book “Peril,” written by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and reporter Robert Costa. The authors report that Milley told Li that the US government was “100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Woodward and Costa write, Milley feared Trump had suffered a “mental decline” following his defeat by Biden the previous November — and told senior military officers to check the validity of any orders the lame-duck president issued involving nuclear weapons with Milley himself.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest-ranking military officer whose sole role is providing military-specific advice to the president, and by law is prohibited from exercising executive authority to command forces,” Miller said Wednesday. “The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, not through the Chairman.”
Woodward and Costa also report in their book that Milley, the top-ranking US military officer, called Li in October of 2020 and reassured his Beijing counterpart that “we are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.” In fact, Milley reportedly added, if Trump did order military action against China, “I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
On Wednesday, Miller denied a report by Fox News that the October and January calls were carried out with the full knowledge of then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Miller himself, respectively. His statement added that if the details of the calls as reported by Woodward and Costa were true, then Milley “must resign immediately or be fired by the Secretary of Defense to guarantee the sanctity of the officer corps.”
“Pursuit of partisan politics and individual self-interests are a violation of an officer’s sacred duty and have no place in the United States military,” said Miller, who noted that “a lesser ranking officer accused of such behavior would immediately be relieved of duty pending a thorough and independent investigation.”
Miller also echoed Trump’s denial that he had any intention of starting a war with China. Woodward and Costa report that the October call from Milley to Li stemmed from intelligence that Beijing believed a US attack was imminent.
“Any accusations that President Trump was intent on starting a war with China are completely unfounded,” Miller said. “President Trump absolutely believed and advocated for a more aggressive approach to China, but he was elected to end our Nation’s wars, not start new ones. I was proud to play a small role in achieving those goals.”
Miller concluded his statement by saying that he looked forward to “a full, non-partisan investigation of the accusations made by Woodward to guarantee that the genius of our Founders and following generations that established a system and culture of the subservience of our military – the most powerful force in our Nation – to civilian control endures.”
Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, acknowledged earlier Wednesday that the conversations between Milley and Li took place and claimed they were “in keeping with [his] duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden “has complete confidence” in Milley’s “leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution.” Biden himself echoed that comment moments later, telling reporters that “I have great confidence in General Milley.”
Trump said in his statement released Tuesday that Milley — who he called “Dumbass” — should be “tried for TREASON” if the report by Woodward and Costa proved true “in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the President’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!”
In the same statement, the 45th president said he believed the report to be “Fake News concocted by a weak and ineffective General together with two authors who I refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact.”
“I never even thought of attacking China — and China knows that,” Trump insisted. “The people that fabricated the story are sick and demented, and the people who print it are just as bad.”