July 14, 2024

Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he will take “appropriate measures” to protect himself and his family after former President Donald Trump accused the nation’s top uniformed officer of treason, suggesting he would have been executed in the past for his back-channel reassurances to China.

Trump, who is running in the 2024 presidential race, claimed Milley would have faced death “in times gone by” for communicating with a Chinese general during the former president’s tenure and that his departure from the Joint Chiefs position this week will be a “time for all citizens of the USA to celebrate!”

Milley defended his communications in an interview this week for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” where he also said that Trump’s comments were not only a swipe at him but a denunciation of the military as a whole, an institution that Trump claims to support but has also lambasted for “turning woke.”

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“As much as these comments are directed at me, it’s also directed at the institution of the military. And there’s 2.1 million of us in uniform,” Milley said. “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,” he added.

Trump has routinely criticized his own former officials — often on his social media site, Truth Social, where he attacked Milley.

According to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book “Peril,” Milley made two calls to a Chinese general, Li Zuocheng, in 2021. One call was two days after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“My task at that time was to de-escalate,” Milley told senators that year, saying that his intent was to calm fears in Chinese top brass that the U.S. would not attack China despite their intelligence indicating otherwise as America seemed in turmoil after the Capitol siege. He also said that several top Trump officials knew about the calls.

Milley was “certain” that the former president “did not intend on attacking the Chinese, and it is my directed responsibility to convey presidential orders and intent,” he said.

Trump and his allies have previously called for Milley to resign, and now — as the chairman is on his way to retirement — it appears that the former president was threatening something harsher, had the times been different. Milley said he has “adequate safety precautions.”

“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,” Milley said in the “60 Minutes” interview, “then we are willing to live for it, too.”

Milley’s tenure as Joint Chiefs chairman was tumultuous, according to The Washington Post and other outlets that have profiled him in the final days of his chairmanship. At times, he was seen as the last reasonable stopgap in a top-down chain of chaos during the Trump years, including during contentious nuclear chest-thumping between the former president and Kim Jong Un, the dictator of North Korea.

At another time, he endured national condemnation for taking part in Trump’s march through Lafayette Square outside of the White House, where police used tear gas and riot tactics to clear the area of protestors, apparently for a photo opportunity.

“I should not have been there,” Milley said after the photo op. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

What is clear about Milley’s legacy was that he was not one to mince words during his chairmanship, a tendency that often earned him ire from Republican lawmakers. In 2021, during a hearing at the Capitol, Milley sharply defended the military studying critical race theory, an academic concept meant to examine systemic racial inequality in American.

“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” he said. “So what is wrong with understanding — having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.

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