Out of apparent concern that then-President Donald Trump would “go rogue,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went behind the president’s back and established backchannel communications with his Chinese counterpart in a promise to give China a heads up in the event that the United States were to declare war on China.
In their new book, Peril, journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa write that Milley was so concerned that Trump would “spark a war with China” that he made a “pair of secret phone calls,” the Washington Post reported.
“Woodward and Costa write that after January 6, Milley ‘felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions,'” reported CNN on the same revelation, adding that Milley thought Trump might “wag the dog” or provoke “a conflict domestically or abroad to distract from his crushing election loss.”
The Washington Post notes that Milley was apparently so concerned with Trump that he may have undermined the Trump administration by communicating directly with America’s rivals in China.
“In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike,” the pair of reporters noted. ‘One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.”
Woodward and Costa say that Milley communicated sensitive information to a Chinese general, and even suggested he would warn China ahead of time if he discovered that Trump planned to attack the country by communicating with his Chinese counterpart, General Li.
The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “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.”
The Post reports that the Chinese general took Milley “at his word.”
CNN’s report on the matter notes that Milley had a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who seemed prepared to assume control.
“Milley received a blunt phone call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the book. Woodward and Costa exclusively obtained a transcript of the call, during which Milley tried to reassure Pelosi that the nuclear weapons were safe,” per CNN. “Pelosi pushed back.”
“What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?” Pelosi reportedly told Milley. “You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.”
The authors write that Milley agreed with Pelosi’s assessment of Trump.
The revelation did not go unnoticed on social media, with many calling Milley’s decision an act of treason against the sitting U.S. president. Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who infamously testified against Trump, called for Milley’s resignation on social media.
“If this is true GEN Milley must resign. He 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,” wrote Vindman on Twitter.