WASHINGTON – Fearful of Donald Trump's actions in his final weeks as president, the United States' top military officer twice assured his Chinese counterpart that the two nations would not go to war, according to a forthcoming book.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People's Liberation Army that the United States would not strike. One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that defeated Trump. The second call was on Jan. 8, 2021, just two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the outgoing chief executive.
Milley went so far as to promise Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, according to the book “Peril,” written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him in the first call, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
“If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It's not going to be a surprise," Milley reportedly said.
Selections from the book, which is set to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.
The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6. But the book reports that Li wasn't as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, “We are 100 percent steady. Everything's fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the election, agreeing with a view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they had Jan. 8, according to officials.
Pelosi had previously said she spoke to Milley that day about “available precautions” to prevent Trump from initiating military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she was given unspecified assurances that there were longstanding safeguards in place.
Milley, according to the book, called the admiral overseeing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises. He also asked senior officers to swear an “oath” that Milley had to be involved if Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons, according to the book.
Milley was appointed by Trump in 2018 and later drew the president's wrath when he expressed regret for participating in a June 2020 photo op with Trump after federal law enforcement cleared a park near the White House of peaceful protesters so Trump could stand at a nearby damaged church.
Requests for comment from Milley were not immediately returned. Milley's second warning to Beijing came after Trump had fired Secretary of Defense Mike Esper and filled several top positions with interim officeholders loyal to him.
The book also offers new insights into Trump's efforts to hold on to power despite losing the election to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump refused to concede and offered false claims that the election had been stolen. He repeatedly pressed his vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to certify the election results at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the event that was later interrupted by the mob.
Pence, the book writes, called Dan Quayle, a former vice president and fellow Indiana Republican, to see if there was any way he could acquiesce to Trump's request. Quayle said absolutely not.
“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle said, according to the book.
Pence ultimately agreed. He defied Trump to affirm Joe Biden's victory.
Trump was not pleased.
“I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this,” Trump replied, according to the book, later telling his vice president, “You've betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed reporting.