Trump, Republicans call Gen. Mark Milley 'treasonous' for calls with China
WASHINGTON – Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is facing outrage from lawmakers after a report that he assured China that the United States would not launch a nuclear strike in the last days of the Trump administration.
The bombshell revelations were reported in "Peril," the latest book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodard. Woodward writes that in a pair of calls in 2020, Milley twice assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army.
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have called the move treasonous, accusing Milley of subverting the military chain of command, calling for consequences.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., accused Milley of "treasonous" and "reckless behavior" and urged President Joe Biden to fire the top general.
"It is a dangerous precedent that could be asserted at any point in the future by General Milley or others," Rubio wrote in an open letter to Biden . "It threatens to tear apart our nation’s longstanding principle of civilian control of the military."
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden has worked closely with Milley during his eight months as president and considers him a patriot.
"The president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution," she said.
Army Col. Dave Butler, Milley's spokesman, said Milley's calls with the Chinese were routine and staffed by other agencies.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia," he said. "These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict. His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties. General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution.”
Democrats reactions to the report showed concern that the situation was possible in the first place.
"The fate of the world should not depend on a single general, in this case Mark Milley, trying to stop a President who is unstable," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-N.J., wrote on Twitter . Lieu has introduced legislation with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to require a president to seek congressional approval before any nuclear strike.
Milley was not the only top national security leader concerned about the stability of the president. Former CIA Director Gina Haspel told Milley that “we are on the way to a right-wing coup," after Trump lost reelection in 2020, according to Woodward's book.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper also directed backchannels with the Chinese to assure them the U.S. would not launch a nuclear strike, according to Axios .
Trump himself condemned Milley in an interview on Newsmax, calling the idea that he'd call for a nuclear strike on China "totally ridiculous" in a Tuesday interview.
"So, first of all, if it is actually true, which is hard to believe, that he would have called China and done these things and was willing to advise them of an attack or in advance of an attack, that's treason," Trump said to his former aide and White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, on "Spicer & Co."
Trump also called Milley a "dumbass" in his statement on the report, reiterating that he should be tried for treason for "dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the president's back."
Trump selected Milley for the job as chairman and praised the general at his swearing-in ceremony in 2019. "I have absolute confidence that he will fulfill his duty with the same brilliance and fortitude he has shown throughout his long and very distinguished career," Trump said.
“If true, General Milley has broken some very good laws and we ought to make sure there is accountability for that," Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a close Trump ally, said in a Tuesday Newsmax interview.
While former Trump officials claimed that the calls between Milley and Li were done in secret, sources told Fox News that 15 people were on the teleconferences between the two generals, including members of the State Department and intelligence community.
The former president also marshaled political and media allies to call for Milley's arrest, according to a report by the Daily Beast . Multiple high-profile right-wing commentators with close ties to Trump have expressed outrage about the issue, including Fox News' Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, as well as a range of conservative activists and pundits.
Could Trump have launched a nuclear strike on his own?
Typically, the president would consult with the secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other relevant advisers before launching any nuclear strike. The president, however, has unilateral authority to order the strike, and military commanders who do not follow the command would be subject to a court-martial.
A Pentagon official denied that Milley attempted to insert himself into the chain of command, but instead reminded all military commanders what their role was in the process, according to Fox News .
The new stories in Woodward's book are not the first time it has come to light that Milley clashed with Trump. In June 2020, Milley apologized for appearing with Trump after military police cleared peaceful racial justice protestors from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., with tear gas and anti-riot tactics.
Milley also had calls with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during which Pelosi expressed concern that Trump would launch a nuclear strike.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir .
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, Republicans call Gen. Mark Milley 'treasonous' for calls with China