Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right

Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has become a lightning rod for the Biden administration, which is facing calls for him to resign over book excerpts underscoring his maneuvering during former President Trump’s final days in office.

Milley was already a target for conservatives before the revelations in “Peril,” the upcoming book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

But the new bombshells, including that Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to assure him Trump did not have plans to attack Beijing as part of a ploy to remain in power, have sparked new calls for the general to resign.

It’s not just Trump supporters who are angered by the revelations either.

Claims in “Peril” that Milley moved to limit Trump’s ability to call for a military strike or launch nuclear weapons after the riot have brought criticism from opponents of Trump, including retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified against Trump in his 2019 impeachment trial.

Vindman said Milley should resign if the reporting in “Peril” is accurate, saying on Twitter that Milley “usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military.”

While pressure on Milley and President Biden is growing, there’s no signal that the general is in danger.

Biden on Wednesday said that he had “great confidence in Gen. Milley” when asked if the general did the right thing in light of his reported actions.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also offered support, saying Biden and Milley have “worked side by side through a range of international events, and the president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution.”

At the Pentagon, press secretary John Kirby told reporters, “I’ve seen nothing in what I’ve read that would cause any concern.”

Kirby would not confirm the events in the book but said Milley, as the key military adviser to the president, would be “intimately involved in that process in providing advice and counsel” to the Defense secretary and the president in the event of any military strike.

At the heart of the controversy is two scenes in “Peril” that describe Milley’s moves in the waning months of the Trump administration to prevent any erratic attacks on other nations in a possible strategy to detract from Trump’s election loss.

In one instance, Milley called his Chinese counterpart reportedly looking to assure the general and Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. was not preparing a strike. The call followed intelligence in the days before the 2020 election that revealed Beijing believed Trump was preparing to launch such an attack to manufacture an international crisis.

Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler on Wednesday confirmed Milley made the calls but said they were routine. Butler added that the general “regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense around the world, including China and Russia. These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict.”

Kirby also said such calls are “staffed, they’re coordinated and they’re transparent, as transparent as they can be.”

Woodward and Costa also write that Milley was “certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election” and then convened a secret meeting at the Pentagon to review military protocols, ordering senior military officials to not take orders from anyone unless he was involved.

Kirby, without confirming the reporting in “Peril,” said, “It is not uncommon at all, for the department to continue to review security protocols — particularly when it comes to our strategic deterrence capabilities — that we constantly take a look at the protocols and the procedures to make sure that they are still relevant.”

“It is completely appropriate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the senior military adviser to both the [Defense] secretary and the president, to want to see those protocols reviewed on whatever frequent basis that he wants to do that,” Kirby added.

The pushback has done little to quash complaints about Milley.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Milley should be fired over the “contemplation” of a leak of classified information to China and criticized the chairman for undermining the former president with his communications with China. He even suggested on Fox News on Tuesday night that Milley was involved in “the essence of a military coup.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called for Milley to be fired, saying he doesn’t have the right or the authority “to contact our opponents in Beijing and tell them that he will inform them about any action we might take before we take it.”

“He has broken the trust of the American people,” Hawley said.

Milley is likely to be grilled during a scheduled appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie are also set to appear at that hearing.

Milley had already come under criticism from Trump and some other Republicans for comments defending critical race theory during a committee hearing over the summer.

In the comments, Milley defended reading materials critical of the Founding Fathers, saying he thought it was “important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.” 

“I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said at one point during the July House Armed Services Committee hearing.

He also made it clear that the military does not actually teach critical race theory at West Point, but his comments were criticized by some on the right who saw it as offering support for what they see as a “woke” military. Milley himself had dismissed characterizations of “woke” officers as offensive.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Milley’s comments “pathetic” and “sad.”

That skirmish had nothing to do with the excerpts in “Peril,” but it created a context where critics of Milley were even more ready to call for his resignation.

Some other Republicans have held back from calling for Milley’s ouster, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rep. Mike Waltz (Fla.), who instead wrote to Milley seeking answers on the phone calls to his Chinese counterpart.

The two said they wanted a  briefing “on the intelligence that led you to believe that China was concerned about a preemptive strike from the United States.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Fox on Wednesday that the information in the book raises “serious concerns” but said some of the allegations seem “somewhat far-fetched.” But he said senators will address the concerns when Milley testifies on Capitol Hill later this month.

Trump has again criticized Milley, and the GOP divide over the general may be affected by the former president.

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who has fallen out with Trump over his own book, on Wednesday defended Milley as “a staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law,” saying that “his patriotism is unquestioned.”

In the days after Trump’s loss, “I can only imagine the pressures he and others were under in fulfilling their Constitutional obligations,” Bolton wrote on Twitter late Wednesday. “I have no doubt General Milley consulted widely with his colleagues on the National Security Council and others during this period.”

Tags Alexander Vindman China Critical race theory Donald Trump Jen Psaki Joe Biden John Bolton John Kirby Josh Hawley Lindsey Graham Lloyd Austin Marco Rubio Mark Milley Pentagon Tom Cotton Tucker Carlson

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