The calls that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made with his Chinese counterpart “were not secret,” U.S. officials told Fox News, saying they were coordinated with several. senior officials within the Pentagon.
The allegations are included in a new book co-authored by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Bob Costa.
MILEY SECRETLY CALLED CHINESE OFFICIALS BY LEAK TRUMP ‘WOULD ATTACK’ IN LAST DAYS, BOOK CLAIM
The book alleges that Milley made two secret phone calls, both to his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army. The book alleges that the phone calls took place before the 2020 presidential election on October 30, 2020 and two days after the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill on January 8, 2021.
The book claims that Milley contacted Li after reviewing information suggesting that Chinese officials believed the United States was planning an attack on China as part of military exercises in the South China Sea.
The authors of the book also claim that Milley contacted Li a second time to reassure him that the United States would not make any kind of advances or attack China in any form, as Milley promised, ” We are 100% stable. Everything is fine. But democracy can be sloppy at times. “
But Fox News spoke to several people who were in the room during the two calls, which were by video conference, not over the phone. Officials said the appeals were coordinated with the office of the secretary of defense.
“They weren’t secret,” a US official told Fox News.
Milley’s spokesman Col. Dave Butler said in a statement Wednesday that “the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs communicates regularly with defense chiefs around the world, including China and Russia.”
“These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of US national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict,” said Butler. “His appeals with the Chinese and others in October and January were consistent with these reassured duties and responsibilities in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Butler added, “All of the President’s calls to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Defense Department and the Interagency.”
Milley, in accordance with his responsibilities as senior military adviser to the President and Secretary of Defense, “holds frequent meetings with uniformed leaders of the services to ensure that all leaders are aware of current issues,” said Butler.
“The nuclear weapons protocols meeting was intended to remind uniformed Pentagon leaders of the solid and long-established procedures in light of media reports on the subject,” Butler continued.
He added: “General Milley continues to act and advise within the framework of his authority in the legal tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution.”
Fox News learned that there were about 15 people present for the phone calls, which were video conference calls. Familiar sources told Fox News there were several note takers in attendance and said the calls were both knowingly made by then Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary then Acting Defense Chris Miller.
According to the official, there was full civilian oversight of the phone calls, including a State Department official and Milley’s political adviser. Notes of the appeals were taken and a briefing note was sent to the secretary of defense and the intelligence community, the official said.
“It was not done as some sort of conspiracy,” another participant who overheard the conversation told Fox News.
According to those familiar with it, the October phone call had several topics, one of which was about the elections. The Chinese, the sources said, were concerned about what they saw as the instability of the American system. Milley, according to a source, reassured his counterpart that the United States is a stable democracy.
U.S. officials told Fox News that in October 2020 there had been a spike in intelligence suggesting that the Chinese were increasingly concerned that the United States would carry out a military strike in the weeks before or after the election. The Pentagon feared that the Chinese could misinterpret all the “Washington noise” from top leaders and “stumble into conflict.”
“No one wanted ships to collide in the Pacific,” an official said.
Another source said the call was to assure adversaries that the United States was not planning any military action.
Another source said that at the time Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked his political staff, made up of all civilians, to call the Chinese for reassurance. Milley was asked to follow up with his Chinese counterpart and was asked to reinforce Esper’s message that there was no military plan underway.
Pentagon leaders speak regularly to their Chinese and Russian counterparts to reduce the possibility of misunderstandings that can inadvertently lead to wars.
According to US Pacific Command sources, Esper asked then-Admiral Davidson to postpone sending warships and warplanes to the Pacific for an exercise in December, as it could be misinterpreted as a military build-up – they were going to have to go there 2 weeks earlier for a COVID quarantine and the Pentagon feared the Chinese would misinterpret this move.
Those in the Pentagon at the time were trying to present a posture of stability – no sudden movements.
Meanwhile, Fox News learned that Milley had up to 20 phone calls with Li and NATO allies between the election and the January 6 riots in an attempt to reassure them about the stability of the U.S. government and reassure China that the United States had no plans for a surprise attack. Officials said all of this was aimed at reducing tensions with China during the interim period between the election and the nomination, and projecting stability so that adversaries of the United States do not take advantage of internal turmoil during this period.
“It was a measure of stability and confidence, not subversive,” said another official at the call, adding that reporting Milley’s attempt to fit into the nuclear chain of command as “even more ridiculous” .
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Meanwhile, the Woodward-Costa book also addresses a phone call between Milley and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who discussed his concerns that Trump was “crazy” after the Capitol riot, and pleaded with Milley. to take up nuclear football.
According to sources, Milley reassured Pelosi that “nuclear weapons are fine”, and told the speaker that “we have procedures, checks and balances”.
Sources told Fox News that Milley then contacted the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hyten, and a number of other officials to review and understand the procedures.
“The president has the exclusive power to launch nuclear weapons, but the president does not launch nuclear weapons alone,” an official told Fox News.
The review lasted about 10 minutes and was meant to serve as a reminder that there would be a conference call if the president – any president – decided to launch a nuclear weapon.
“This is standard operating procedure,” said an official.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not in the chain of command to authorize the use of force or a nuclear launch, but rather is the president’s main military adviser. Launching nuclear weapons requires levels of verification by the Pentagon and US Strategic Command in Nebraska. who oversees all nuclear forces. At no point did Milley fit into this chain of command, according to those familiar with the conversations, including members of the Joint Chiefs.