US President Joe Biden has said he backs US Top General Mark Milley, who is facing mounting pressure to be held accountable for reports that he may have exceeded his authority during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Biden has “total confidence” in Milley, who serves as chairman of the joint chiefs, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday.
A day earlier, reports stemming from an upcoming book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa claimed that Milley, thinking then-President Donald Trump was suffering from mental decline, called his Chinese counterpart twice, late in June. 2020 and early 2021, to avoid a possible military conflict with China.
Excerpts from the book titled Danger, first revealed by the Washington Post, said Milley assured Li Zuocheng, China’s top general, that the United States would not attack China and would inform him of an attack if it did occur.
“If we are going to attack, I will call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise. ”The book, based on hundreds of interviews, quotes Milley as he told Li.
Tuesday’s reports prompted Republicans to call for Milley’s resignation, and Trump accused the top general of treason.
But the White House noted that Biden is at Milley’s side. “The president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution,” said Psaki.
Later that day, Biden himself told reporters outside the White House: “I have great confidence in General Milley.”
Milley’s office issued its own statement denying any wrongdoing on the general’s part and emphasizing that he regularly contacts his foreign counterparts.
“His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were commensurate with these duties and responsibilities and conveyed reassurance to maintain strategic stability,” said Dave Butler, a spokesman for Milley.
“All calls from the president to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated, and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has “full confidence and security” in Milley.
Kirby declined to discuss the details of the alleged revelations in the book, but said it is “not unusual” for the top US general to communicate with foreign military leaders, including those from Russia and China.
“Not only is it common, the chairman of the joint staff is expected to continue to have conversations with his counterparts,” Kirby said.
But many Republicans are already going after Milley, accusing him of violating the elected civilian leadership’s command over the military.
Senator Marco Rubio asked Biden to “immediately fire” Milley, who was appointed by Trump in 2018. He called Milley’s conduct a “dangerous precedent.”
“It threatens to destroy the ancient principle of civilian control of the armed forces in our nation,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Biden.
Senator Rand Paul, a Trump ally, called for an immediate investigation against the general.
“Milley was not elected president. I can’t even tell you how incredibly dangerous this is, ”Paul told conservative host Glenn Beck on Wednesday.
In an interview with Newsmax on Tuesday, Trump rebuked Milley and dismissed the idea that he would consider ordering an attack on China.
“That is a statement of treason and I can’t tell you how many people called about it,” Trump said of Milley’s call to Li. “That’s a shame”.
For its part, the White House confirmed that it will not take action against Milley based on the information revealed in the Post’s journalist book. Psaki said that Biden believes that Milley is a “man of honor.”
“He knows General Milley, and he has worked alongside him for the past almost eight months, and that is what gives the president confidence in him,” Psaki said. “We will let Congress and others ask the questions they want to ask.”