Milley defends calls, says he 'knew' Trump didn't intend to attack China

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyTrump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Russian military buildup puts Washington on edge Overnight Defense & National Security — Russian military moves cause for concern MORE on Tuesday defended contacts with his Chinese counterpart in final weeks of the Trump administration as well as his decision to call a meeting of senior military officials to review the procedures for launching deadly weapons.

Milley said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee the calls were generated by “concerning intelligence” that caused American officials to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the U.S.

“I am certain that President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE 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 in his opening remarks.

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“My job at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.”

Milley also said that, following the Jan. 8 call with his Chinese counterpart, he briefed then-Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris Mnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book MORE and then-White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official Fauci 'not aware' Trump tested positive for COVID-19 days before 2020 debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's pre-debate COVID-19 test sparks criticism MORE, in addition to Christopher Miller, who at the time was serving as acting Defense secretary. 

The calls were reported in the new book “Peril” written by Washington Post journalists Robert Costa and Bob Woodward and triggered enormous scrutiny of Milley in recent weeks. Milley’s comments on Tuesday were his most extensive public remarks addressing the revelations.

In his extraordinary testimony, Milley also expanded on a phone call that he received from Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden marks World AIDS Day with new actions to end HIV epidemic by 2030 DeFazio becomes 19th House Democrat to retire Pelosi: Democrats can't allow 'indecent' Boebert comments to stand MORE (D-Calif.) later that same day during which she asked about Trump’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. Pelosi raised the concerns two days after throngs of Trump supporters flooded the Capitol, launching a deadly insurrection motivated by Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election. 

“I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president,” Milley told the committee members on Tuesday. 

“I explained to her that the president is the sole 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,” Milley continued. “There are processes, protocols and procedures in place and I repeatedly assured her there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized, or accidental launch.” 

Milley confirmed that he met with senior military officials in his office to “refresh” the procedures around launching nuclear weapons. Milley acknowledged that he is not in the chain of command but said the meeting was within his statutory authority as the president’s primary military adviser. 

“At no time 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,” Milley told the committee.

Under questioning from Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnConservatives target Biden pick for New York district court Senators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai MORE (R-Tenn.) later in the hearing, Milley acknowledged that he talked to Woodward and other authors who wrote books on the Trump presidency, but he said he hadn’t read any of them and wasn’t sure if he was portrayed accurately.

Milley has faced tough criticism from Republicans following the revelations. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Wisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall MORE (R-Fla.) wrote to Biden asking that he fire the top general, whom he accused of “actively” undermining the sitting president and contemplating “a treasonous leak of classified information” to China.

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The White House has stood by Milley, with Biden telling reporters earlier this month that he has “great confidence” in the joint chiefs chairman.

Milley during his testimony described his loyalty to the U.S. and its Constitution “absolute” and made clear his belief that the military must steer clear of politics.

“I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle essential to the health this republic and I am committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics,” Milley told the committee.

In addition to the public explanation, Milley also submitted two unclassified memos detailing his calls with his Chinese counterpart as well as his phone call with Pelosi to the committee. He welcomed further discussion regarding the intelligence indicating the Chinese worried about a U.S. attack in a classified session with lawmakers, which is expected to follow the open session on Tuesday. 

Updated at 12:35 p.m.