Milley defends his actions at the end of Trump’s term, saying top officials knew of his calls to China.

By Helene Cooper

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Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said calls to his Chinese counterpart at the end of President Trump’s term, and a meeting where he told generals to alert him if Mr. Trump tried to launch a nuclear weapon, were in line with his duties.CreditCredit...Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
Helene Cooper

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended his actions in the tumultuous last months of the Trump administration, insisting that calls to his Chinese counterpart and a meeting in which he told generals to alert him if the president tried to launch a nuclear weapon were all part of his job duties as the country’s most senior military officer.

“My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give,” he said. “I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle essential to this republic and I am committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics.”

General Milley used the ending of his opening remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the turmoil of recent revelations in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. He said he was directed by Mark Esper, then the secretary of defense, to make a call on Oct. 30 to his Chinese counterpart because there was “intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.”

General Milley’s testimony was another chapter in the story of the final chaotic days of the Trump administration, with government officials on edge as they worried about actions Mr. Trump might take in the last days of his presidency.

“I know, I am certain, President Trump did not intend on attacking the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility to convey presidential orders and intent,” he said. “My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: calm, steady, de-escalate. We are not going to attack you.”

General Milley also addressed the frantic phone call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California two days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A transcript of the call in the book said that the general agreed with Ms. Pelosi’s characterization of President Donald J. Trump as being “crazy.”

Speaking to the Senate panel, General Milley said, “On 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called me to inquire about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. 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, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.”

Later that afternoon, he said, he called the generals involved in that process to “refresh on these procedures.”

In an unintentionally funny interchange with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, General Milley acknowledged that he spoke with a series of authors who have recently written books about the final months of the Trump presidency. All of the books present the general’s actions to check Mr. Trump in a favorable light.

“Woodward yes, Costa no,” General Milley replied, when asked if he had spoken to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa for their book “Peril.” The general said he has not read any of the books.

At that, Senator Blackburn asked him to read them and report back about whether the books accurately portray his actions.