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Milley Fires Back Against Accusations He Circumvented Chain of Command in Calls to Chinese General

Published: September 28, 2021
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - AUGUST 18: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon August 18, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Milley held a news briefing to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country. (Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Sept. 28, America’s top general, Mark Milley, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing fired back against accusations that he had circumvented the chain of command when he made two calls to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, on Oct. 30 of last year and on Jan. 8, 2021.

The accusations were levied by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and journalist Robert Costa in their recently published book titled, Peril.

Woodward and Costa imply that Milley, fearing that the rhetoric and actions of then-President Donald Trump would spark a war with China, clandestinely contacted his Chinese counterpart outside of standard norms to defuse the situation. 

According to Woodward and Acosta, the general placed the calls to Li in an attempt to reassure the Chinese general that the situation in Washington was “stable” and that the U.S. had no plans to attack China, according to anonymous sources.

The accusations went as far as to say that Milley did not inform the White House about either call. 

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley allegedly told the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

The general allegedly told his counterpart that, “You and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

This quote was widely condemned by leading political figures in the U.S.. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said that Milley’s calls amounted to undermining the proper chain of command, adding that “I don’t care what you think of President Trump, the Chairman of the JCOS working to subvert the military chain of command and collude with China is exactly what we do not accept from military leaders in our country. He should be court-martialed if true.”

Milley fires back

After the accusations were levied, White House Press Secretary Psaki and other Biden officials claimed that Milley’s calls were not inappropriate; claiming the chaos of the Jan. 6 riots were an important context surrounding the matter and that Milley was a “patriot” acting in line with his constitutional duty. 

During the hearing on Sept. 28, Milley said that his task at the time “was to deescalate. My message again was consistent. Stay calm, steady and deescalate. We are not going to attack.”

The general said that he made the calls in accordance with the responsibilities placed on him by his role in the military. The general was in possession of intelligence that indicated China was concerned that the U.S. was about to conduct a first strike on the Chinese mainland and he made the calls to assure his counterpart that no attack was imminent.

“By law, I am not in the chain of command, and I know that. However, my presidential directive, and DOD instruction, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my legal statutory role, as the President’s primary military advisor,” Milley said. 

Contradicting claims that he made the calls in a clandestine manner the general explained that during his call on Oct. 30 that eight people sat in on the call and that he had read out the call within 30-minutes of the call ending. 

Further to this, according to Milley, the second call which occurred on Jan. 8 was arranged through proper channels. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Policy helped coordinate the call.

“Shortly after my call ended [with] Generally Li, I personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo, and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call among other topics.” the General said, adding that he had briefed Acting Secretary Miller on the call shortly after as well. 

The former acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, said that he “did not and would not ever authorize” the calls and described the allegations as a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination,” while calling on the General to resign, Fox News reported.

“At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process usurp authority or insert myself in the chain of command. But I am expected, I am required to give my advice and ensure that the President is fully informed on military matters.” the general stated adding that he would be submitting a more detailed and unclassified memoranda at a later date.

The general offered to make available “any email, phone logs, memoranda, witnesses or anything else [one would] need [to] understand these events.”

Juliet Wei contributed to this report.