In January, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley called his counterpart, General Zuocheng — that’s a photo of the two of them there actually taken years before in Beijing.
And what I’m about to report, Judy, is all from a defense official, three former senior defense officials, a former senior Trump administration official, and a senior congressional official.
At the time, Milley was extremely concerned about what President Trump was capable of. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had been terminated. The January 6 attack had just occurred and senior Pentagon officials had been replaced with Trump loyalists.
And so Milley talked to every day with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They worked together to try and ensure there was continuity right at the end of the Trump administration, ensure there was no surprises on national security.
And part of that was reassuring adversaries that there was going to be continuity from Trump to Biden. That call was what Milley made to General Li, that there was going to be no surprises. That’s General Li there.
Now, the context for the call was back in October. That’s when the Chinese — U.S. believed that the Chinese feared some kind of U.S. attack, some kind of October surprise. And so senior civilian Pentagon officials called their counterparts and reassured them that, no, there was no imminent U.S. attack.
As part of that reassurance, General Milley called his counterpart back in October to reassure him of the same thing. And we have some of the words from that call, thanks to the Woodward-Costa book.
What General Milley told General Li that time is: “General Li, you and I have known each other for five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
Now, those words, “I’m going to tell you ahead of time,” are extraordinary, Judy. But these defense officials who I have been talking to emphasize that the message, the core message, what Milley was trying to say, reassurance, there is not going to be an attack by the U.S. on China, that was wrong, and that that message of reassurance was the same thing that the Pentagon civilian leadership wanted.