President Biden is standing by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite accusations he committed treason during the final weeks of the Trump administration by reassuring his Chinese counterpart that then-President Donald Trump would not attack Beijing.
“I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden responded to reporters Wednesday, moments after press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to excuse Milley’s alleged conduct as acceptable in the “context of this period and time in history” given that he did so while Trump was in his final days as commander-in-chief and amid the backdrop of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“What I can assure you all is that [President Biden] knows General Milley, he has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs for almost eight months of his presidency, they’ve worked side by side through a range of international events, and the president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution,” Psaki said when asked about the allegations against Milley in the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
In a written statement issued minutes before Psaki’s press briefing, Milley’s spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, acknowledged the communications with the Chinese, saying the top US military officer acted within his authority as the most senior uniformed adviser to the president and to the secretary of defense.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia. These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict,” the statement said.
“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,” Butler 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.”
The book says Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a US attack.
In her defense of Milley’s actions, which some have labeled treasonous amid calls for him to step down, Psaki said: “Since you gave me the opportunity, I just wanted to add, I think it’s important to consider some of the context, context of this period and time, of time in history that we’re discussing and is outlined in portions of this book.
“The outgoing president of the United States, during this period of time, fomented unrest, leading to an insurrection and an attack on our nation’s capital, on Jan. 6, which we’ve all, you all have covered extensively, of course, one of the darkest days in our nation’s history,” Psaki charged of Trump, seeming to make a moral equivocation for Milley’s surreptitious calls to the Chinese.
“It’s the obligation of every chairman of the Joint Chiefs to follow constitutional order to prevent unlawful military action, that’s what the president believes,” Psaki noted. “I have great confidence in General Milley.”
Christopher Miller, the acting secretary of defense at the end of the Trump administration, told Fox News that he “did not and would not ever authorize” Milley to have “secret” calls with Li, and described the allegations as a “disgraceful and unprecedented act of insubordination.”
Miller said Milley should resign “immediately.”
In a statement to Fox News, Miller said the armed forces since the beginning have “operated under the inviolable principle of civilian control of the military.”
“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 in the statement. “The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, not through the Chairman.”
According to “Peril,” Milley contacted Li twice in the final months of the Trump administration – once right before the election on Oct. 30, 2020, and again on Jan. 8, two days after the riot at the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
Milley reassured him both times that the administration would not launch attacks against China.
Milley also told Li that if Trump did order an attack against China, “I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
Trump said if the claims in the book by Woodward and Costa are true, Milley, whom he referred to as “Dumbass,” “would be tried for TREASON 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!”
But Trump went on to say the story is “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.”
Others have joined with Trump in calling for Milley to be prosecuted.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) said in a tweet that the “deep state is real.”
“General Milley needs to be court-martialed for sedition,” Steube said.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) said nobody elected Milley.
“He can’t pretend otherwise. We need an investigation NOW & if true, his resignation & court-martial.
While we’re on the topic of ‘unrest,’ Biden & Milley are directly responsible for 13 dead servicemembers & letting Afghanistan fall into chaos,” Bishop said in the posting.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former member of the National Security Council, tweeted Tuesday that if the calls were made, Milley “usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military.
“It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that,” added Vindman, who concluded his post by adding a hashtag to the phrase “do the right thing in the right way.”
And in a letter to Biden earlier Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) –the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee– demanded Milley’s immediate firing, writing that he had “worked to actively undermine the sitting Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces and contemplated a treasonous leak of classified information to the Chinese Communist Party in advance of a potential armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China.
“These actions by General Milley demonstrate a clear lack of sound judgment, and I urge you to dismiss him immediately,” Rubio told Biden.
During the White House press briefing Wednesday, meanwhile, Psaki was peppered with questions about Milley’s conduct and ability to serve but repeatedly cited the general’s “fidelity to the Constitution.”
At one point Psaki was asked about Republicans reactions to Milley and whether that would color any actions Biden may take.
“I don’t think the president is looking for the guidance of members of Congress who stood by, while the president of the United States and the leader of their party fomented an insurrection and many of them were silent,” she said.
She was also asked about whether there were any concerns in the Biden administration that Milley might exceed his authority.
Psaki said that’s why she provided context for Milley’s actions.
“Because what we’re talking about here, one, let me just restate again, that there are a range of reports in this book, anonymous, unconfirmed,” she said.
She then referred to the statement by the Joints Chiefs of Staff and said that shows the normal channels of communication.
“Broadly speaking, beyond this book … any Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has channels to communicate with China and Russia. Those are meant to increase confidence. Those are meant to prevent and deter any action that would be unintended, and that is a good thing, because obviously we want to prevent nuclear war,” she said, adding that Milley is a man of honor, patriotic and has “fidelity to the Constitution.”
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