The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Monday blasted concerns about Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley’s contact with Chinese military officials during the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration as “ridiculously overblown” and unfair to the senior Pentagon leader.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., made the comments in response to questions from Republican lawmakers on the House Rules Committee during a hearing on the committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill.
At least 25 GOP lawmakers in the House have called for an investigation into Milley’s actions — and potentially his resignation — after a new book on the Trump presidency alleged he spoke to Chinese military leaders to reassure them that American forces were not planning any assault as the U.S. commander-in-chief’s behavior grew more erratic after losing re-election.
In addition, Trump last week called Milley a “dumbass” and suggested he be tried for treason. But Trump simultaneously attacked the book as “fiction, not fact” and cast doubt on any of the allegations.
The account, written by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, also reports that Milley warned senior Pentagon leaders that Trump was unstable and ordered them to ensure he was included in any military actions authorized by Trump, including possible nuclear strikes.
Milley and senior defense leaders have defended the actions as routine and not insubordination or treason. The Joint Chiefs chairman told the Associated Press last week that his calls to Chinese officials were “routine” and designed to “reassure both allies and adversaries.”
Smith echoed that in his comments on Monday.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a fairly regular basis, looks for ways to talk to our adversaries to hopefully avoid conflict,” he said. “There was nothing secret about these phone calls.
“[At the time] there was cause or concern across the globe about what was going on here, and [Milley] was doing his job to try to make sure that nerves were kept calm … What actually happened was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doing his job.”
But Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said that he has heard numerous concerns from colleagues and constituents about Milley’s actions, and urged more investigation into the matter. Burgess is not among the lawmakers who had previously called for Milley’s removal.
Smith has said he is in contact with Milley on the issue, and Milley is expected to address the issues during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28.
Milley was a surprise pick by Trump to take over as Joint Chiefs Chairman in 2019, but the two later sparred behind the scenes on issues like military use on U.S. soil and politicization of service members.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.