At the end of his remarks about Afghanistan, Gen. Mark Milley turned to calls he held in January and last October with his Chinese counterpart. He told lawmakers key Trump leaders and military officials were aware of the calls.
These calls have become a lightning rod for partisan criticism, with some Republicans calling for Milley’s resignation or firing. Milley said the calls were part of routine communications “with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight.”
“I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance,” he said.
Eight people sat in on the October call between Milley and his Chinese counterpart, while 11 people sat in on the January call, Milley said. The calls were coordinated with then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and then-Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.
“I personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting [Defense] Secretary Miller, where I briefed him on the call,” Milley said of the January call.
Milley continued: “These military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the United States in order to deconflict military actions, manage crises, and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s most deadliest weapons.”
He said that the calls were coordinated after the US Defense Department learned of specific intelligence “which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.”
“I know, I am certain, that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese, and it is my directed responsibility, and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese,” Milley said.
He said that his task at the time was to “de-escalate” and that his message was consistent: “Stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.”