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Milley defends calls to China at end of Trump presidency

·Senior Writer
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Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to defend himself Tuesday over calls he made to reassure his Chinese counterpart that the United States was not planning an unprovoked nuclear attack in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency.

Details of the Oct. 30 and Jan. 8 phone calls were first reported in a new book, “Peril,” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley said he was "certain that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese" and that it was his job to convey that to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army.

“My task at that time was to deescalate,” Milley told lawmakers. "My message again was consistent: Stay calm, steady, and deescalate. We are not going to attack you.”

Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday. (Photo by Patrick Semansky/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Gen. Mark Milley at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. (Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Milley has come under fire for the calls, with some critics saying he was disloyal to Trump and circumvented the military chain of command.

In his testimony Tuesday, Milley dismissed such criticism, saying, “At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority or insert myself in the chain of command."

He told the committee that both calls were made at the direction of and in coordination with Trump defense officials. The January call came two days after a violent mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Related: When a president goes rogue, what can the chairman of the Joint Chiefs do? >>>

He also testified about a call he received from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who he said called him to inquire about Trump's ability to launch nuclear weapons.

"I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process,” Milley said.

He said he told her that while the president has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, “he doesn’t launch them alone,” adding that as chairman he is part of the launch decision process.

“There are processes, protocols and procedures in place," Milley said. "And I repeatedly assured her there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch.”

He also defended himself from critics, including Trump himself, who have called his actions treasonous.

President Trump extends a hand to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump with Milley during a White House briefing in 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

"I’ve served for 42 years," Milley said. “My loyalty to this nation, its people and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give.”

Some lawmakers have called for President Biden to fire Milley over the phone calls. But earlier this month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden "has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution.”

The president reiterated that message himself, telling reporters, “I have great confidence in Gen. Milley.”

Milley testified that he spoke with with several writers, including Woodward, for their Trump-related books.

“I haven’t read any of the books,” he added.

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