WASHINGTON — Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming lashed out at her fellow Republicans on Wednesday as they bashed Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for remarks he reportedly made to Chinese counterparts and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, Cheney began her allotted five-minute round of questions by speaking about the attack on the Capitol before moving to what some her colleagues were saying about Milley.
Cheney, one of two House Republicans who sit on a congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot, noted that after the attack, many of her Republican colleagues voted to oppose verifying the electoral tally that showed Biden had won last year's election. They had no right to attack the top U.S. military officer for his reported actions when they had participated in the effort “to stop the constitutionally prescribed process of counting electoral votes,” she said.
Following the riot, "many of the members of our constitutional system failed to do their duty," Cheney said. "Many of them punted, many of them today are still attempting to obstruct the investigation into that attack, attempting to whitewash what happened."
“General Milley, you found yourself in your constitutionally prescribed role, standing in the breach, and for any member of this committee, for any American to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our Constitution, your loyalty to our Constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command, is despicable,” Cheney said.
“I want to apologize for those members of this committee who've done so, and I want to thank you for standing in the breach, when so many, including many in this room, failed to do so," she added.
The remarks by Cheney, who was ousted as chair of the House Republican Conference this year for repudiating Donald Trump's election falsehoods, came after several Republicans criticized Milley for his reported comments in a new book, "Peril," by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The book reports that Milley made calls days before last year's election and then again after the Capitol riot to assure Chinese officials that there would not be attacks by the U.S. military after intelligence officials flagged concerns that Beijing believed such a strike was possible.
"Peril" also recounts a phone conversation Milley had with Pelosi, D-Calif., after the violence at the Capitol, which the speaker blamed on an "unhinged" Trump. Pelosi said in January that she spoke to Milley about "preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike."
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said that Milley’s move to tell his Chinese counterpart that he would warn him if the U.S. launched an attack merited his stepping down — something Milley had made clear at a Senate hearing Tuesday that he would not do, saying that would be a political act.
“I think [it’s] worthy of your resignation," Hartzler said. "I just think that's against our country that you would give our No. 1 adversary that information and tell him that.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told Milley that Republicans aren’t questioning his personal conduct, but rather are “questioning in your official capacity, going and undermining the chain of command, which is obviously what you did.”
“You said yesterday that you weren't going to resign when senators asked you this question, and I believe that you guys probably won't resign," Gaetz said. "You seem to be very happy failing up over there. But if we didn't have a president that was so addled, you all would be fired.”
Milley told members that the calls were made based on intelligence, and that top officials, including then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, were aware of them.
"I am certain, guaranteed certain, that President Trump had no intent to attack, and it was my task to make sure I communicated that, and the purpose was to de-escalate," Milley said.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., asked Milley about his conversation with Pelosi as reported in the book, which quoted the general as telling the speaker, who reportedly said she thought Trump was "crazy," that he agreed with her "on everything.”
Milley rejected that characterization of his comments.
“I actually said, ‘I'm not qualified to assess the mental health of the president,’" he responded. "What I'm agreeing to is that we have to have a secure nuclear system.”