President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he has “great confidence” in Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley following revelations that he took steps to avert a surprise military strike during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Shortly before Biden issued his glowing endorsement of the country’s top general at a vaccine event, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday declared that President Joe Biden has “complete confidence” in Milley.
Psaki’s remarks came shortly after a spokesperson from Milley’s office released a statement defending the general’s conversations with his Chinese military counterpart, saying that the nation’s top military officer had acted constitutionally and within his appointed role.
Recently released excerpts from the upcoming book Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, revealed that during the last fraught days of the Trump years, Milley believed that the then-president was in “serious mental decline” and could possibly “go rogue” following the Jan. 6 riots.
According to the book, Milley was so concerned about Trump’s instability that he met with senior military officers on Jan. 8 and ordered those present not to take orders regarding a nuclear attack or military strike unless he was involved.
Milley also called Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng that same day to reassure him that the United States would not attack China and would give the Chinese a heads up in case Trump tried to launch an attack, per the book. Milley had earlier placed a call to his Chinese counterpart prior to last year’s election to calm him down over concerns about Trump’s fiery rhetoric and Chinese intelligence warning of potential military action.
With enraged Republicans demanding Milley’s resignation and Trump and his allies accusing the general of “treason,” the general’s spokesperson Col. Dave Butler didn’t necessarily deny the allegations in the book but instead framed them as part of Milley’s constitutional duties.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia,” Butler said in a statement. “These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict.”
He added: “His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability. All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.”
Additional reporting by Axios and Fox News following the book excerpts indicated that Milley’s conversations with the Chinese were not secret, as top Pentagon officials and the State Department were also involved. Furthermore, notes from both of Milley’s calls were shared with the intelligence community.
During her press briefing at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Psaki affirmed that the president stands by Milley despite GOP calls for him to step down.
“I can assure you all... that the president knows General Milley,” she declared from the podium. “He has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs for almost eight months of his presidency. They’ve 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.”
As for Republican criticism of Milley and increased calls for the general’s resignation, Psaki dismissed them out of hand while seemingly framing Milley’s actions as defensible.
“I don’t think the president is looking for the guidance of members of Congress who stood by while the leader of their party fomented an insurrection and many of them were silent,” she exclaimed.