WASHINGTON — Gen. Mark Milley on Tuesday defended calls he made to a Chinese official at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, saying other administration officials were aware of the calls and they were not intended to “usurp authority.”
“The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after with Secretary [Mark] Esper and acting Secretary [Chris] Miller’s staffs and the interagency,” Milley said during an opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“My task at that time was to de-escalate,” he said.
Milley said he made the calls to assure Chinese officials that there would not be attacks by the U.S. military after intelligence officials flagged concerns that the Chinese believed such a strike possible.
“At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed,” he said.
The second call, on Jan. 8, came two days after a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential win.
Milley said the October call was made at the direction of Esper, and the second was done at the request of the Chinese and coordinated with Miller’s office.
Additionally, he told senators he knew Trump wasn’t planning to attack China.
“I know, I am certain, President Trump did not intend on attacking the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility — to convey presidential orders and intent,” he said.
Milley has been at the center of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the United States was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China.