According to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s upcoming book Peril, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley single-handedly adjusted the military’s command structure due to worries about then-President Donald Trump, following the Jan. 6 riots in D.C.
The reasoning of Milley
After the events at the Capitol Building, the authors state that Milley was ‘certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election.’ Woodward and Costa also claim that the general was worried Trump would ‘go rogue.’
These fears led Milley to subvert the command structure and, coincidentally, go a bit ‘rogue’ himself. One of the ways Milley did that was by reviewing the process for launching nuclear weapons with the relevant senior officers, a seemingly-normal thing to do.
According to Woodward and Costa, while they were reviewing this procedure, Milley told all in attendance that, while the President alone could give the order, he would necessarily be involved. The writers state that Milley looked each of the officers in the eye and treated their understanding as if it were an oath.
The most troublesome of Milley’s actions were two phone calls to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army. The first of these was on October 30, 2020 and the other happened on January 8, 2021.
The reason for the first call is attributed to tensions during U.S. Naval exercises in the South China Sea. The second phone call is claimed as resulting from the appearance of instability in the U.S., following the Capitol Building fiasco only two days prior.
“Everything is going to be okay”
In these calls, the authors write, Milley warned Zuocheng that the situation in America was under control despite the concerning news cycle at the time. “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
Besides this reassurance, Milley also told Zuocheng, “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
These conversations occurred without Trump’s knowledge. The book notes discussions between Gen. Milley and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which indicate why this played out the way it did.
According to the call transcript obtained by Woodward and Costa, it shows Pelosi telling Milley, referring to Trump, “He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy. … He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.” Milley replied, “I agree with you on everything.”
Some say Milley’s actions amount to treason if they actually occurred, including former President Trump. Others feel as though Milley’s reassurances were more akin to a check on Trump’s power.
The ambiguity of the U.S.’s codified definition of treason leaves any outcome on the table. U.S.C. defines treason as: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere.”
The key notions here are adhering to an enemy and giving them aid or comfort. Without a clear definition of what adherence or aid would mean in this context, it is unknown if Milley’s actions meet that criteria.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Because Gen. Milley felt as though his Commander-in-Chief could potentially incite a war for political gain, he may have acted in good faith. But, if it was instead Milley who acted from a purely-political basis, the inverse is true.
Regardless of culpability, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military subverting their Commander-in-Chief is sure to always spur a nationwide debate over which one acted correctly.
In the book, Woodward and Costa used interviews with around 200 individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They also utilized a series of documents including classified material, from secret orders to call transcripts, diaries, emails, meeting notes and personal government records to supplement the book.
Peril is set to release on September 21.
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