Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley believes former President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that he deserved to be executed after speaking with a Chinese general during Trump’s fraught final months in office is part of a broader swipe at the US military by its former commander in chief.
Speaking to CBS’s Norah O’Donnell in a “60 Minutes” clip released on Wednesday, Milley – who also said he will “take appropriate measures” to ensure his and his family’s personal safety in the wake of the former president’s remark – offered no regrets about his efforts to reassure his Chinese counterpart about the stability of the US during Trump’s efforts to stay in office. In a Truth Social post last week, Trump said the backchannel communications by Milley amounted to a “treasonous act” that was “so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”
It’s a disturbing remark, even by the standards of Trump’s usual inflammatory rhetoric and the contentious relationship between the two men, and it is especially jarring at a time when Trump is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination for president.
“As much as these comments are directed at me, it’s also directed at the institution of the military. And there is 2.1 million of us in uniform,” Milley told CBS. “And the American people can take it to the bank, that all of us, every single one of us, from private to general, are loyal to that Constitution and will never turn our back on it no matter what. No matter what the threats, no matter what the humiliation, no matter what.”
“If we’re willing to die for that document, if we’re willing to deploy to combat, if we’re willing to lose an arm, a leg, an eye, to protect and support and defend that document and protect the American people, then we are willing to live for it, too.”
Asked by O’Donnell if there was “anything inappropriate or treasonous” about the outreach to China, Milley replied, “absolutely not. Zero. None.”
Milley made two backchannel calls to China’s top general, Li Zuocheng, that were revealed in “Peril,” the 2021 book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. In October 2020, as intelligence suggested China believed the US was going to attack them, Milley sought to calm Li by reassuring him that the US was not considering a strike, according to the book. Milley called again two days after the January 6 riot at the US Capitol to tell Li that the US is “100 percent steady” even though “things may look unsteady.”
Milley’s actions prompted sharp criticism from Trump and his allies, including calls for Milley’s resignation and that he be tried for treason. The general has defended his behavior during the last days of the Trump administration, saying his interactions were not only appropriate but that numerous senior Trump officials were aware it occurred.
Milley, who will retire at the end of this week, told O’Donnell he was not worried about his safety despite Trump’s recent remarks.
“I’ve got adequate safety precautions,” he said. “I wish those comments had not been made, but they were. We will take appropriate measures to ensure my safety and the safety of my family.”
Trump’s broadside against Milley sparked criticism on Thursday from his own vice president, Mike Pence, who himself has been the subject of Trump’s indifference to the safety of his closest advisers.
“There’s no call for that kind of language directed towards someone who’s worn the uniform of the United States and served with just distinction,” Pence told Phil Mattingly on “CNN This Morning.”