TIME FOR MARK MILLEY TO TALK. The publicity machine is up and running for Bob Woodward’s latest book , Peril, an account of the last months of the Trump administration and the first months of the Biden administration, co-written with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa. Washington traditionally gets very agitated about Woodward revelations, a tradition that intensified in the Trump years.
Now, there are already conflicting accounts of some key moments in the book. The most important is its claim that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was so worried about the mental state of President Donald Trump, so worried that Trump might start a war, that he secretly called China’s top general and promised the United States would not attack. “In a pair of secret phone calls,” says an account of the book from the Washington Post, “Gen. Mark A. Milley … assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike.”
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It’s an extraordinary story. An Army general takes it upon himself to assume the powers of the presidency and conduct private foreign relations with America’s most powerful competitor? More than one observer saw treason at work. In a letter to President Joe Biden, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said, “I write with grave concern regarding recent reporting that General Mark Milley … worked to actively undermine the sitting Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces and contemplated a treasonous leak of classified information to the Chinese Communist Party in advance of a potential armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China.” Rubio urged the president to fire Milley immediately.
But wait. It would seem that the story belongs in the category of “Big, if true.” Because not long after the Woodward PR machine started up, Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin, who is well-sourced in the Pentagon, tweeted a story that was significantly different from the Woodward version.
“There were 15 people on the video teleconference calls, including a representative of the State Department, and the readout notes from Milley’s two calls with his Chinese counterpart were shared with the intelligence community and the Interagency,” Griffin, citing Pentagon sources, tweeted Tuesday. The two calls to China were “routine,” Griffin continued , along with “more than a dozen calls with NATO allies after January 6 to reassure them that the US government was stable and to reassure China that the US did not plan a surprise attack, an effort to avoid misunderstanding.”
So what is the real story? Were the calls “secret”? Were they “routine”? Were they about Trump’s “mental state”? What did Milley really say to Li? The answers to these and other questions are absolutely critical. And who are the sources for all of these stories?
The point is, there is going to be a lot of talking about Woodward’s revelations in the next few days. It will be important to try to figure out what is true and what is not, and what is exaggerated and what is not. Milley’s actions deserve serious scrutiny, not just in the press, but much more importantly, on Capitol Hill. Milley is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28. It is time for the public to hear his story.
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