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Milley Defends His Calls to China During Trump’s Term

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended his actions in the tumultuous last months of the Trump administration, insisting that calls to his Chinese counterpart and a meeting in which he told generals to alert him if the president tried to launch a nuclear weapon were all part of his job duties as the country’s most senior military officer.

“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,” he said. “I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle essential to this republic and I am committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics.”

General Milley used the ending of his opening remarks during before the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the turmoil of recent revelations in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. He said he was directed by Mark Esper, then the secretary of defense, to make a call on Oct. 30 to his Chinese counterpart because there was “intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.”

“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. “My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: calm, steady, de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.”

General Milley also addressed the frantic phone call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California two days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A transcript of the call in the book said that the general agreed with Ms. Pelosi’s characterization of President Donald J. Trump as being “crazy.”

Speaking to the Senate panel, General Milley said, “On 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called me to inquire about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn’t launch them alone, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.”

Later that afternoon, he said, he called the generals involved in that process to “refresh on these procedures.”