Milley disclosures about Trump raise alarm — and criticism

·Senior Editor
·5-min read

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so concerned about President Donald Trump's mental health in the final months of his administration that he placed secret calls to a top Chinese general to assure him that the United States would not launch a nuclear attack against Beijing, according to a new book by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. 

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be OK,” Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng four days before the 2020 election, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you."

The call, according to the book, was prompted by intelligence indicating that China was worried about a U.S. attack, which stemmed in part from Trump's bellicose rhetoric. “General Li, 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,” Milley told his Chinese counterpart. 

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the White House, as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, looks on in October 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in 2019 as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, looks on. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

That extraordinary revelation, which is contained in the forthcoming book “Peril,” has sharpened the focus on Trump’s behavior during his final months in office, as he waged an unsuccessful campaign to contest the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

The book includes a transcript, for instance, of a Jan. 8 call between Milley and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy,” Pelosi told Milley, discussing Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the election, culminating with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, who sought to block the certification of the Electoral College vote. “He’s crazy, and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.”

“I agree with you on everything,” Milley responded, according to the transcript of the call.

The book also details a Jan. 5 Oval Office meeting between Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who informed the president he could not go along with Trump's plan for him to block the certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6.

According to the book, Trump didn’t take the news well. 

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this,” he told Pence, adding later, “You’ve betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”

While Trump’s actions continue to face scrutiny, and will be a centerpiece of the Jan. 6 select committee investigation into the riot at the Capitol, Milley’s own behavior is being criticized by many conservatives as possibly constituting “treason.”

In response to the disclosures contained in the book, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday calling for him to "immediately dismiss General Milley" for leaking "classified information on U.S. military operations." 

"A senior military officer interfering with that civilian-controlled process is simply unacceptable at best, and at worst, would cause ambiguity which could lead to war," Rubio wrote.  

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Trump lashed out at Milley and said that he had never considered attacking China. 

"If the story of 'Dumbass' General Mark Milley ... is true, then I assume he 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,'" Trump said in his statement. 

For months, Milley has been a target for conservatives and Trump supporters, after a reported shouting match with Trump in the White House Situation Room in the summer of 2020 over the then president’s plan to forcefully disperse nationwide protests against police mistreatment of Black Americans. 

Milley further incited Republican anger when he excoriated GOP lawmakers while testifying before a House committee hearing in June over the accusation that the military had become too “woke.” 

“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding ... having some situation understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?” Milley said at the hearing. “And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — our general officers, our commissioned and noncommissioned officers — of being, quote, ‘woke’ or something, because we’re studying some theories that are out there.” 

But not all the criticism of Milley’s conversations with his Chinese counterpart has come from conservatives. Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during Trump’s first impeachment trial, said Tuesday that Milley should resign if the reports are true. 

Milley’s defenders argue that the general was acting to prevent an unstable Trump from possibly starting a nuclear conflict with China. His detractors say he willingly subverted the chain of command, placing his own judgment ahead of that of the commander in chief. Perhaps all that is certain now is that if Milley was a lightning rod for controversy before the disclosures in “Peril,” that status has now been elevated tenfold. 

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