“General Li, you and I have known each other for five years now. If we attack, I’ll call you ahead of time. It won’t be a surprise, ”Milley is reported to have said.
A defense officer familiar with the calls said the description was “grossly incorrect”.
The officer said the calls were not unusual and the chairman was not trying desperately to reassure the other person.
People also said that Milley wasn’t unscrupulous in making the call, as the book suggests. In fact, Milley asked Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller for permission before making the call, said a former senior defense official who was in the room for the meeting. Milley also informed the secretariat after the call, the former official said.
“We spoke to his Chinese counterpart before and after he called,” the person said on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
In an interview on Wednesday, Miller told POLITICO that Milley almost certainly told him that he would call his Chinese counterpart, but he does not remember receiving a detailed report of the call afterwards.
“Looking back, I can imagine that there was a superficial exchange between us and our staff about coordinating phone calls and messages for the day,” he said. “I don’t remember the details and it certainly wasn’t more detailed or formal. It was rather superficial / routine. “
A Joint Staff spokesman said all calls from Milley to his counterparts, including those with Chinese leaders, are “manned, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the Inter-agency.”
“His calls to the Chinese and others in October and January were in line with these duties and responsibilities and provided security to maintain strategic stability,” said Col. Dave Butler.
When asked about the allegations at a press conference Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden believed Milley was a “patriot.”
“He has faith in his leadership,” said Psaki.
Miller said that if the Woodward and Costa report were correct, “it would be totally inappropriate and contrary to the civilian oversight of the military for it to conduct foreign policy or national security activities of this kind, but I don’t know if the” call is correct. I don’t know if it’s true or not. “
He added that such a call would be “quite unsettling to civil oversight and would be truly unconstitutional if true. … If the way in which the Woodward book describes the way we talk on the phone is correct, it is not the way we operate in our government and our republic. “
In a statement to POLITICO, Woodward and Costa said: “We stand by our reporting.”