Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod

Greg Nash

It’s Wednesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has become a lightning rod for the Biden administration amid calls for him to resign over book excerpts revealing President Trump’s final days in office.

We’ll break down what the issue is, who is angry, and what the Biden administration has to say.

For The Hill, we’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

Milley moved to limit Trump military strike, book claims

Milley has become a lightning rod for the Biden administration over new scenes revealed in “Peril,” the upcoming book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

Milley, already a target for conservatives before the revelations, is facing calls for him to resign over excerpts underscoring his maneuvering during Trump’s final days in office.

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.

Who wants him gone: 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.”

But Biden backs him: 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.”

Meanwhile, 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.

Conservatives not pleased: 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.”

But others hold off: 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.

Read the full story here.


Among supporters of Milley is former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who defended the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman on Wednesday.

Bolton said Milley’s “patriotism is unquestioned” and that he is a “staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“In the days after Donald Trump’s November 3, 2020, election defeat, I can only imagine the pressures he and others were under in fulfilling their Constitutional obligations,” Bolton wrote. “I have no doubt General Milley consulted widely with his colleagues on the National Security Council and others during this period.”

Bolton also said he would be “very surprised” if officials on the National Security Council were not aware of Milley’s actions, and if they did not agree with his efforts.

Read more about that here.

How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation 

A U.S. Air Force air crew assigned assists evacuees huddled in a plane

Congressional offices went to extraordinary measures to help in the evacuation effort of Americans and vulnerable Afghans stuck in Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country last month.

While Kabul’s quick fall shocked the world, Senate and House lawmakers soon found their offices overwhelmed with desperate pleas from Afghan Americans, military veterans of the war in Afghanistan, workers of nongovernmental organizations and others scrambling for contacts to save people stranded in the country suddenly under the rule of a terrorist organization.

The Hill spoke to nearly 20 lawmakers and staffers in both parties about what their offices went through over the fraught two weeks between when Kabul first fell, on Aug. 15, and the last U.S. military flight, just before midnight Aug. 30.

A personal endeavor: The mission was personal for many of them: Some are veterans, or relatives of veterans, of the 20-year war, and some had even worked with local interpreters whom they considered key to their survival.

Lawmakers and staffers also said they felt obligated to answer requests from constituents as well as those beyond their districts looking for help. Many offices found success in helping people evacuate, but those victories are dampened by the sheer numbers of people left behind.

How many out? How many left?: While the administration evacuated about 125,000 people from Afghanistan last month, independent analysts estimate that more than 100,000 people who fall into a priority for evacuation were left behind.

“It was tough, honestly. I was in communication with probably five to 10 people on the ground in Kabul and that was just emotionally frustrating and demoralizing,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), whose district includes one of the largest Afghan American communities in the U.S., said in an interview with The Hill.

But others said their work on evacuations is still weighing on them.

Read the full story here.

Capitol Police ask Pentagon for help ahead of rally 

Capitol Police has asked the Pentagon to provide military personnel ahead of Saturday’s pro-Trump Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., the Defense Department confirmed Wednesday.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the department has “received a request from the Capitol Police for some assistance for this weekend’s scheduled protest.”

He would not say more on the specific request, noting that it is typical Defense Department policy to let the agency asking for assistance be the ones to speak on the details.

Kirby added that Pentagon officials are currently analyzing the request and “if it can be validated and supported, we’ll do that.

Preparations: Security officials and congressional leaders are making sure they will not be blindsided by Saturday’s rally which is intended to show support for those who have been charged in connection to the Capitol riot.

After officials appeared to be caught flat-footed on Jan. 6, when a violent mob of former President Trump‘s supporters overwhelmed police officers and stormed the Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn President Biden’s election victory, there has been a scramble to ensure the same events don’t happen again.

Capitol Police have installed temporary high-tech security cameras to allow them a wider view of the Capitol complex, and the Capitol Police Board on Monday approved a plan to reinstall a 7-foot fence around the main Capitol building.

Numbers unknown:Asked how many personnel the Capitol Police requested and what roles they would take on, Kirby would only say that “it is not an exorbitant ask.”

“It’s not of a particularly large size or major capability,” he said. “I think it’s really more in the form of some manpower support.”

Read the rest here.



That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We’ll see you Thursday.

Tags Abigail Spanberger Alexander Vindman Donald Trump Eric Swalwell Jen Psaki Joe Biden John Bolton John Kirby Josh Hawley Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mark Milley Peter Meijer Tom Cotton

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