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Gen. Milley says he wasn't trying to undermine Trump in China call

He testified that he was not trying to "usurp authority" when he told his Chinese counterpart he would warn China if the U.S. planned to attack them.

WASHINGTON — Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday said he was not trying to "usurp authority" when he told his Chinese counterpart he would warn Chinese officials before the U.S. launched an attack and that other administration officials were aware of the calls.

"The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after with Secretary [Mark] Esper and acting Secretary [Chris] Miller’s staffs and the interagency," Milley said during an opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"My task at that time was to de-escalate," he said.

Milley has been at the center of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the United States was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China. The calls were revealed in a new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, "Peril."

Milley said he made the calls to assure Chinese officials that there would not be attacks by the U.S. military after intelligence officials flagged concerns that the Chinese believed such a strike was possible.

"At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed," he said.

The second call, on Jan. 8, came two days after a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential win.

Milley said the October call was made at the direction of Esper, and the second was done at the request of the Chinese and coordinated with Miller’s office.

Additionally, he told senators he knew Trump wasn't planning to attack China.

"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," Milley said.

During the question portion of the hearing, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked Milley to confirm he spoke to the authors of the book.

"Woodward yes, Costa no," said Milley in response to the question. When asked if he was depicted accurately, Milley told Blackburn he hadn't read the book, she urged him to do so and get back to her, to which he replied, "Happy to do that."

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, pressed Milley on the calls to the Chinese official, asking if he thought China would give the U.S. a heads up if, hypothetically, they were to invade Taiwan.

Milley said no and reiterated that he was trying to de-escalate the tension and not circumvent Trump.

"I was communicating to my Chinese counterpart on instructions, by the way, to de-escalate the situation and I told him that we’re not going to attack," he said. "President Trump has no intent to attack and I told him that repeatedly."