Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Joint Chief's Chairman General Mark Milley issued opening statements during which he defended the reportedly secret phone calls he made to his counterparts in the Chinese military.
"I've served this nation for 42 years," Milley said. "I spent years in combat, and I buried a lot of my troops who died while defending this country. My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn't changed, and will never change. As long as I have a breath to give. My loyalty is absolute. And I will not turn my back on the fallen."
"With respect to the Chinese calls, I routinely communicated with my counterpart General Li, with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight," Milley said.
"I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance," Milley said, "the policy dialogue system. 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 crisis, and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world's most deadliest weapons."
"The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after, with Secretary Esper, and Acting Secretary Miller staffs and the interagency. The specific purpose of the October and January calls were generated by concerning intelligence, which caused us to believe the Chinese 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," Milley said.
"And it is my directed responsibility. And it was my directed responsibility by the Secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese," Milley said. "My task at that time was to deescalate. My message again, was consistent, stay calm, steady, and deescalate. 'We are not going to attack you.'"
"And Secretary of Defense Esper's direction I made a call to General Li on 30 October, eight people sat in that call with me, and I read out the call within 30 minutes of the call ending," Milley explained. "On 31 December, the Chinese requested another call with me. The deputy assistant secretary defense for Asia Pacific policy, helped coordinate my call, which was then scheduled for 8 January, and he made a preliminary call on 6 January."
"Eleven people attended that call with me. And read outs of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day. Shortly after my call ended with General Li. 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 Secretary Miller, where I briefed him on the call," Milley said.
Milley explained the phone calls with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well, saying: "Later that same day, on 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called me to inquire about the president's ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made very made various personal references characterizing the president.
"I explained to her that the president is the soul nuclear launch authority, and he doesn't launch them alone, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States. There are processes, protocols and procedures in place, and I repeatedly assured her that there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch," Milley said.
"By presidential directive and Secretary defense directive," Milley continued, "the chairman is part of the process to ensure the president is fully informed when determining the use of the world's deadliest weapons. By law, I am not in the chain of command. And I know that, however, by presidential directive, and DOD instruction, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my legal, statutory role as the president's primary military adviser."
"After the Speaker Pelosi call," Milley said, "I convened a short meeting in my office with key members of my staff to refresh all of us on the procedures which we practice daily at the action officer level. Additionally, I immediately informed Acting Secretary defense Miller of Speaker Pelosi's phone call."
"At no time," Milley assured Congress, "was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority or insert myself in the chain of command. But I am expected, I am required to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed on military matters. I'm submitting for the record a more detailed and unclassified memoranda that I believe you all now have, although late, and I welcome a thorough walkthrough on every single one of these events."
"And I'd be happy," he said, "in a classified session to talk in detail about the intelligence that drove these calls. I'm also happy to make available any email, phone logs, memoranda, witnesses or anything else you need to understand these events. My oath is to support the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And I will never turn my back on that oath. I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle, essential to the health of this republic. And I'm committed to ensuring that the military stays clear of domestic politics."
The phone calls came into question after the early release of excerpts of a new book, Peril, out from Bob Woodward and the Washington Post's Robert Costa. In it, there are revelations that Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that if the US were to attack China, Milley would let Li know before it happened.
Milley, according to Woodward and Costa, was apparently afraid that former President Donald Trump would engage in hostilities, and went around Trump in order to take power, by speaking with Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People's Liberation Army. Milley assured him that the US would not engage in armed hostilities with the communist nation, according to the Washington Post.
Additional revelations appeared to show that Milley had conversations with Pelosi about the president's mental health, and his willingness to launch nuclear weapons without oversight or advice from his military advisors.