Top General Testifies About Call with Nancy Pelosi To Discuss Nuclear Attack, Whether Donald Trump Is 'Crazy'

Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee he's not qualified to evaluate the president's mental health and said calls to a Chinese general were coordinated with Trump administration officials

Gen. Mark Milley
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday and defended several phone calls he made in the final days of Donald Trump's presidency.

Milley's testimony was originally scheduled to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan but some senators also wanted to get to the bottom of the explosive recent reports from the book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

The book includes details of a call between Milley, 63, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The authors assert that when Pelosi repeatedly called Trump "crazy," Milley said, "I agree with you on everything."

In his testimony on Tuesday, however, Milley said he told Pelosi, "I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States."

Pelosi made the call on Jan. 8 "to inquire about the president's ability to launch nuclear weapons," Milley said.

"I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process," he told the panel of senators. "She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn't launch them alone."

Nancy pelosi and Mark Milley
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and General Mark A. Milley. Kevin Dietsch/Getty; Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

"At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority or insert myself into the chain of command," Milley also said.

Milley's participation in two other phone calls — to reassure his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, on Oct. 30 and again on Jan. 8, that the U.S. was not planning an attack — also came up during the hearing on Tuesday.

After these calls were revealed in early reports on the contents of Peril, Trump issued a statement suggesting Milley "would be tried for TREASON" for dealing with China "behind the President's back."

But Milley said on Tuesday that Trump's defense secretaries and other members of his administration were aware of the calls. In fact, Milley said then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed him to make the first call, which came days before the 2020 election.

Gen. Milley And Secretary Austin Testify Before House Armed Services Committee
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

Milley said the call was made because intelligence "caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States." He also said then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also knew of the call.

"I know, I am certain that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese, and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese," Milley said. "My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: stay calm, steady and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you."

The second call was requested by the Chinese, Milley said in his remarks, adding that 11 people were on the call. "Shortly after my call with General Li, I personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call," Milley said, adding, "soon after that I attended a meeting with acting Secretary Miller, where I briefed him on the call."

Donald Trump and Mark Milley
President Donald Trump (left) with General Mark A. Milley. Ron Sachs/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty

During questioning, Milley acknowledged that he did speak to reporters working on three different books about the Trump presidency. Asked specifically about the authors of Peril, Milley said, "Woodward, yes. Costa, no."

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked if Milley was accurately portrayed in the books. He replied, "I haven't read any of the books, so I don't know."

When Blackburn suggested he read the books so he could tell the committee whether his portrayal is accurate, Milley said, "Happy to do that."

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