Milley defends calls to his Chinese counterpart at end of Trump presidency

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He defended himself over calls he made to reassure his Chinese counterpart that the United States was not planning an unprovoked nuclear attack in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency.

Video transcript

MARK MILLEY: With respect to the Chinese calls, I routinely communicated with my counterpart, General Li, with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance, 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's staffs and the interagency. The specific purpose of the October and January calls were to generate-- or were generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were 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. And it is my directed responsibility-- and it was my direct responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese. My task 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.

At 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. On 31 December, the Chinese requested another call with me. The deputy assistant secretary of 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.

11 people attended that call with me, and readouts 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. 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 various personal references characterizing the president. 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. 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.