White House Defends Milley amid Barrage of Criticism over Alleged Secret China Calls

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki delivers remarks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2021.
(Tom Brenner/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed calls from GOP congressmen to fire Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, following reports that Milley phoned his counterpart in China during the final months of the Trump administration to say he would provide a personal warning before the U.S. attacked China.

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“I don’t think the president is looking for the guidance of members of Congress who stood by as the leader of their party fomented an insurrection,” Psaki said at a press conference on Wednesday.

President Biden also expressed support for Milley in comments to reporters on Wednesday.

“I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden said.

.@PressSec pushes back against calls from GOP lawmakers for Milley to resign:

“I don’t think the president is looking for the guidance of members of Congress who stood by as the leader of their party fomented an insurrection.” pic.twitter.com/BGWA5Am9K9

— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 15, 2021

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Milley called People’s Liberation Army General Li Zuocheng on October 30, 2020, and January 8, 2021, according to excerpts from Peril, an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Milley reportedly called to assure Li that the U.S. would give advance warning if the military planned to attack China.

However, Axios reported on Wednesday that former Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered his office to open backchannel communications with China in October, fearing that the Chinese military was worried over an American surprise attack.

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According to the book, Milley also convened the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the waning days of the Trump administration to ensure that they would contact him in the event that the president ordered a nuclear strike.

Senators Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Ted Cruz (R., Texas), and several House Republicans called on Milley to step down for allegedly acting outside the formal chain of command in defiance of President Trump. Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) wrote on Twitter that Milley should be “court-martialed” if the reports are true.

Milley, however, claims the phone calls with his Chinese counterpart were routine and were conducted with the cooperation of other agencies.

“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia,” Colonel Dave Butler, Milley’s spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”

Bulter added, “All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.”

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