Ethics Observations On Gen. Milley’s Alleged Secret Calls To China


According to “Peril,” Bob Woodward’s latest pseudo-journalism relying on chatty leakers and other anonymous sources to expose the inside sausage-making of our government, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark A. Milley called his Chinese counterpart before the 2020 election and again after the January 6 riots because he feared that President Trump might start a war with China. From Woodward’s employer, the Washington Post:

In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Donald Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote. The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China. “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now 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.”


1. At this point, we do not know if this story is true. Woodward’s methods in such books have always been questionable. They certainly do not meet the standards of traditional journalism. Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has called Woodward’s scoop “gossip and innuendo.” That certainly has been routine for a lot of the media “bombshells” related to the Trump administration.

2. If the account is true, then Milley at very least must be fired and court martialed. I would have to check, but I strongly doubt that the conduct meets the legal description of treason. It is still indefensible, as well as illegal.

3. A White House official has supposedly tipped off the press that “several Pentagon officers present in Milley’s secret meeting are willing to testify against him under oath.” This is not confirmed.

4. If the account is true—and I tend to think it is, if only because Woodward would not risk torching his reputation by offering such a stunning story if he had not confirmed it—I will expect the “resistance” types and the most Trump-Deranged Democrats to paint Milley as a hero. This will only further prove that they oppose the rule of law and the Constitution when it suits their purposes. A general defying the chain of command, whatever his excuse, is “Seven Days in May” stuff, and must be punished severely.

5. And IF the account is true, the next person who calls complaints about “the Deep State” sabotaging President Trump a Fox conspiracy theory needs to be shunned for life. The degree to which Trump was undermined by government partisans, foes and villains is unprecedented in American history, and if his opponents and critics had any integrity or respect for our system of government, they would recognize how dangerous the sabotage was, and would take action to expose and punish those responsible.

But they don’t have integrity or respect for our system of government. This has been made clear by their rhetoric and actions since 2016.

I don’t know why I even bother mentioning what they should do.

46 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Gen. Milley’s Alleged Secret Calls To China

  1. Regarding Milley & treason, sand apologizing for not being an attorney, there are the following to consider:
    US Constitution, Art. III, Section 3 Treason Clause (I’m sure you could school me on the many points of case law on this, but then people, except in impeacents, aren’t tried for constitutional violations, specifically, I think); then, there’s 28 USC §2381, Treason, but that’s not typically applied to other than civilians; finally, Gen Milley is a commissioned officer of the US Army and, as such, is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and, in this case, Article 103, particularly subarticle 103a and 103b. I’d be interested in hearing from any knowledgeable attorneys on this matter, particularly concerning who might be the convening authority for a general Court Martial, who would be the reviewing authority, and who would likely be empowered to conduct the necessary pretrial Article 32 investigation?
    For Jack: You have my email; please use it to contact me directly if you wish. This entire issue may get politically heated and I will happily resign from it if you think this comment will head in that direction.

    • Although General Milley is a four-star general, he is not the commander in chief of the US army, the authority flows from the president to the various combat commands. He is not in that chain of command. It would be difficult to get a jury of peers together, since they are supposed to be officers of comparable rank, but the Inspector General of the Army could still do it. Treason, I dunno, although “giving aid and comfort to the enemy” could be stretched. No one will, though. The Biden administration doesn’t want to open up this can of worms, and Milley will finish out his term in 2023, and pad his post-service income by lecturing college students on how honorable members of the military stood up to would-be dictators.

  2. I really didn’t like Trump but as time goes by I am finding he was the right guy at the right time. Of all the bullshit they accused Trump of this constant alluding to Trump’s secret plans of aggression is so harmful. There has been no president who has communicated more, with less barriers and higher frequency. He didn’t need tea readers to explain what was going on.

  3. After Milley’s groveling apology to the media following the photo taken of him and Trump standing in front of the burnt church across Lafayette park, I would not have trusted him after that. Trump was painted as a war monger which was the exact opposite of of his views. Trump has been an outspoken critic of the people who dragged us into these never ending nation building exercises. So why would Trump want to nuke or attack another country when he knows that he could bring China down economically simply by denying them the ability to export to the US or choosing to default on the Treasuries that foreign countries hold? Maybe denying the US global credit if it defaulted would be a good thing if it serves as a means to keep Congress’s desire to blow trillions in check.

    Milley and his cohorts in the military industrial complex know that keeping wars smoldering is good for profits and Milley knows that his fortunes lie in becoming part of the highly lucrative private sector war making machine as a CEO or board member of a defense contractor after retirement.

    The accusations made are plausible enough to warrant charges brought against him. Let him defend his actions like General Flynn was forced to do. If he is innocent and the allegations are proven false then we know that Bob Woodward and his associates are fiction writers and their works should be treated as such.

    • “After Milley’s groveling apology to the media following the photo taken of him and Trump standing in front of the burnt church across Lafayette park, I would not have trusted him after that.”

      And well you shouldn’t have. At that point Milley became all about preserving his own future, no matter what the consequences for the president or the country. I wonder what would have happened if Trump had listened to Dunford and Mattis and picked USAF General David Goldfein as chairman instead. Probably not much. That photo-op attempt was a mistake.

  4. Makes me think of my nascent Tom Clancy-esque story called “Operation Lifeblood,” in which a certain city attorney is approached by a hard-line conservative Federal prosecutor to pass him and a conservative core within the deep state information, which ultimately leads to a series of assassinations…

  5. On the point of treason:

    I think it be would hard to establish that China is an enemy of the U.S. given the immense economic ties that exist. They would only be an enemy if we were at war with them. The best we could say is that they are a geopolitical adversary no different than Ford is to GM.

    I would however think that conspiracy to commit treason could be used but it might be better to consider some order of espionage charges if he made a commitment to adversary in a foreign country to provide advance information about an action that was about to take place.

    Either way we should still shoot him. (snark) I want a guilty Milley to be stripped of his rank and lose all of his entitlements including his retirement. He earned that punishment.

    • I think the one angle where treason might be applicable is if Miley in fact disobeyed an order to shoot at China. If the President of the United States orders a kinetic strike against another country or their interests, that is an act of war. I would say that in such a case, war need not be declared officially to make the target of the President’s ire reach the definition of “enemy.” Refusal to fire on the enemy because of a prior illegal agreement to disobey civilian authority would probably fit into the definition of treason.

      Next, there is the question of conspiracy. This appears to be a conspiracy to illegally deny the President of the United States control over the armed forces. I think seditious conspiracy requires two or more US persons, which is not the case here. I’m not sure conspiracy to treason is a thing, but maybe it is.

      I’m really unsure as to whether or not the UCMJ would apply to Miley in case of a crime. One would think so generally, but I’m not at all certain.

  6. “if his opponents and critics had any integrity or respect for our system of government, they would recognize how dangerous the sabotage was, and would take action to expose and punish those responsible. ”

    On the contrary, I think they see the template they can use against the next GOP president, and the one after that, and the one after that.

  7. All the questioning of treason and political logistics aside, I find this interesting because this is likely the first example of a serious leak in the Biden presidency. Oh sure, we’ve heard rumblings that things aren’t as great in the administration as the face they’ve put on, but this is the first time damaging quotes have managed to surface in the media that could only have come from a leak. It’s amazing to me that basically the entirety of the Mueller investigation was basically leaked to the press in real time, the Ukraine call was the basis for an impeachment, and from the relative softness of the towels on AF1 to “Shithole Countries” Trump didn’t seem to have a week free from leaked scandal, and Biden was able to keep the lid on his dog biting people in the Whitehouse under wraps for almost six months.

    The treatment of Biden is obviously more close to normal and reasonable than not, presidents shouldn’t be under siege from constant information leaks and playing a constant game of Among Us, but what’s telling is that we’re dealing with a lot of the same people, particularly at the staff level, so either the people leaking were the ones being replaced, or the leaks were partisan.

      • They’re trying to bury it with a vaccine mandate, I think. Classic distraction tactics. I think Benghazi helped Hillary lose, and I think Afghanistan will not be forgiven or forgotten.

      • Do you think? I think it’s an awful idea, but I wouldn’t put it past the administration.

        Biden has been standing at the podium and saying; “All my generals were in agreement”. I’m almost certain that is a lie, I’m sure there was dissent that Biden ignored. There had to be, the alternative is that the entire command structure was egregiously wrong, ignoring all the reports from their own people and allies, and that they uniformly need immediate replacement. But regardless of whether that was true or not, it’s hard for Biden to have said: “The buck stops with me” and “Everyone was in agreement” but also “It’s specifically Milley’s fault.” Throwing Milley under the bus might not splash back on Biden, but I don’t think it gets him clear of Afghanistan.

        • No one ever gets fired in modern day Democratic administrations. Everyone gets a participation trophy and as much soda and pizza as they can eat before their parents take them home.

          • I think it comes from their sincerely held belief in the equity of human capability, their lack of acknowledgement of meritocracy, and a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature (specifically – That different people can be shown the same information and truly believe different things).

            The reason they’re pushing for grading standards to be laxed as opposed to educational standards to be increased is because they believe, deep down, that the problem isn’t the kids, it’s the system, and it’s not that the system isn’t effective, because some kids succeed, it’s that not all kids can participate equally in the system, and that anyone given the same exposure would come away with the same outcome. And that scales up: The problem isn’t that Milley or Biden are awful, it’s that no one could have done a better job, and anyone in the job would have done the same thing. So why blame these guys, they’re just the people in the position.

        • I try really, really hard not to criticize, however, common sense dictates you get the military out last. They’re the last to leave, always. Common sense (just look at a map) dictated you keep a base there just like all the other places we have a base. It does not take a brilliant strategist to see that. Hell, it doesn’t even take much foreign policy or historical knowledge. This was a huge error, one we as a country will regret, and one we will not be easily able to recover from. This isn’t from the news, or some Harvard school, it’s just common sense from anyone who has existed for more than a couple decades and paid attention at all to current events. I have to assume they thought it would turn bloody again, which is likely. I have to assume they did get the specific people that were the masterminds of 9/11. Which, in theory meant the mission was done. I also assume there is a new generation ready for battle. A battle that there’s no taste for in the US, or any other place, so they’ll just do what they want for a bit and gain resources and allies and recruits while we focus on abortion and vaccine mandates.

          • I find this “end the longest war” talking point really annoying. We still have troops stationed in Europe and South Korea. I’d say World War Two and The Korean War are easily the longest wars in American military history. Or maybe we’re still fighting the Barbary pirates in Libya and off Somalia. If so, we’re talking centuries. Why doesn’t Joe pull our troops and navy out of Europe and the UK and South Korea and Okinawa and Japan and the Mediterranean and off the Horn of Africa if he wants to hold the record for ending our longest wars?

  8. I’ve never understood why statements from Bob Woodward (or many from the media) are taken as fact without further investigation. Exaggeration and just plain miscommunication or the desire to remove/damage a political opponent are often the reason many of these stories are published.

    Having said that, I must completely disagree with people who claim treason. It wasn’t. Unless there is a war on, treason is impossible to prove. Assuming the allegation is true it does fall under the category of insubordination. A general telling his staff and subordinates not to follow orders from their commander in chief unless confirmed by him is an example of gross insubordination, an attempt to subvert the chain of command and clear disrespect for his superiors. Anyone who willfully followed such orders would also be guilty and failing to inform General Milley’s superiors of his actions would also likely be viewed as a court martial offence.

    As to his reported calls to Chinese generals, it is not unusual for high ranking officers to have contact with their counterparts, if only to keep lines of communication open and prevent accidental conflict due to misunderstanding. If his reported statements are true, however it is clear he overstepped his authority.

    I am reminded of the KGB’s Operation RYAN launched during the early Reagan Presidency. The media was happily spinning tales that Reagan was a warmonger who would launch a first strike against the USSR and the USSR leadership believed them. After all, why wouldn’t they? The media in the USSR would NEVER report such things unless there was a political reason. So, a massive intelligence operation was launched and when the people performing the operation kept finding that it wasn’t true, their superiors ignored them and refused to believe them. Much like the Trump administration, there were reports that the people “in the know” HAD TO BELIEVE because otherwise their entire worldview would fall apart, and they could not accept that.

    I think it is far more likely that this is an exaggeration of General Milley’s part. The Democrats are in power and believe they will be in power for quite some time, and General Milley likely wants to be part of that in-group. Thus, he must polish up his bona fides and show that he was completely opposed to Trump through his administration. So, a routine meeting in which the chain of command is reviewed becomes an act of undermining the administration, because General Milley is much smarter and realizes that Trump is a threat to the world. Milley will claim that he bravely stood up and told people not to start a war without his permission, regardless of what that fool Trump in the White House says. He can then be applauded and when he retires run for the House or Senate, with the full support of Trump’s opponents.

    And the Biden administration? Would anyone truly believe that they would prosecute this officer even if the story was completely true? I think not. Milley and Woodward are making a very safe accusation as they know they will never be called to account for their actions. Truth is a secondary consideration.

    • And to clarify my remarks about treason in peacetime. As far as I can tell, Milley did not pass any information he was not authorized to have or pass on to a foreign power. And if he is prosecuted for treason, then everyone involved in leaving equipment behind in Afghanistan (up to and including President Biden) are also guilty of treason and we all know that no prosecutions, resignations or firings have resulted from that debacle. Except that Marine Lt-Col who asked his chain of command to show some responsibility.

  9. Am I missing something here? I am not really seeing the issue here. Of course I did not see the issue with the whole Gen. Flynn thing either, but they both seem like the same thing, an incoming high level official doing diplomatic work with their counterparts. How is attempting to reduce tensions with a potential advisory not the job of the incoming Joint Chief or National Security Advisor (In the Flynn case)? Although given the rhetoric on the D side of things, it is hypocritical of them not to pitch a fit on Milley. Of course most of what they do is hypocritical so that is not really anything new.

    • WHAT? A general cannot go around the President to make direct contact with a foreign power. We have civilian-led military by design. This is a direct breach of the Chain of Command at the highest level. General Flynn’s situation has nothing to do with the issues at all: he was not an active member of the military, nor within the military chain of command.

      Yikes. Now you have me wondering if most of the public doesn’t understand the seriousness of what was don, if it was done.

    • That isn’t even the worst part. I don’t know why people are focusing on the ‘called Chinese Generals and said he would inform on his own country to the enemy’ part. According to this account, he called the top military officials together and made them agree to not follow the President’s orders unless HE (Milley) said it was OK. If true, this would confirm my suspicion that there has not been civilian control of the military for some time. Every time Trump told the military to do something and they said “No”, it made me suspect that Trump wasn’t in charge of the military. The indignation they seemed to have when Trump told them to do things made me suspect that previous presidents weren’t in charge either.

  10. MIlley certainly looks like someone summoned from central casting. I guess it turns out he is. He appears to be about as qualified as any run of the mill actor to play a general. And like actors, when he’s not reading a script, he’s a moron.

    Why do we bother to have elections? Why don’t we just let our betters in the D.C. area run the country unencumbered by elected officials?

  11. After over 4+ years of constant anti-Trump propaganda full of blatant lies, false innuendo or intentional cherry picked less than the whole truth narratives, why would anyone in their right mind jump on this Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark A. Milley story thinking this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless their judgement is completely compromised by confirmation bias?

    This story has the same hallmarks as other anti-Trump propaganda narratives, the story is unconfirmed, the accusations and innuendo are unconfirmed and it will probably be unconfirmable; but as we all know “guilty until proven innocent” is how the court of public opinion works now.

    I won’t render any kind of judgement on President Trump or General Milley one way or the other about this before the whole story comes out, if that’s even possible.

    • But Steve, isn’t this “Man Bites Dog” stuff? Bob Woodward reporting anything negative about a Democratic administration? Doesn’t that in and of itself make it plausible? It’s like Barry Bonds or Jose Canseco calling out a steroid cheat. Bob Woodward has been dining out on sucking up to Democrats for nearly fifty years.

  12. The full excerpt of this incident sounds more like mutiny (insurrection, if you will) than treason. I’m looking at his instructions to lower ranking officers. What’s really strange is that Milley has no role in the nuclear command chain. The president works through the combatant commands, not the JCS.

  13. When I watched “Flight 93” on 9/11, I was reminded that after Bush gave the order to shoot down and airliner that appeared to be going rogue, the generals failed to pass the order to pilots, because they were afraid of a mistaken shoot-down. Apparently Bush didn’t take any action against them.

  14. The more I see this, the more I am annoyed.

    If I have learned nothing else from my studies of law and logic, it is this: never trust what someone says; corollary: trust even less what someone says someone else says.

    Assuming Milley said what they said he said, one cannot assume he actually meant what he said. He could have easily been feeding his counterpart in China counterintelligence. He could have easily been misleading an adversary in advance of an attack.

    Is that likely? Probably not. But, the fact is: whether he intended to or not, he never tipped off the Chinese.

    He likely did not commit treason; he might have only contemplated it. But, even if he said what they said he said, that does not mean he meant what he said. Logic and the hearsay rule caution against accepting statements as true at face value.


  15. If true, then THiS . . . THIS RIGHT HERE . . . is the ACTUAL “collusion” that took place during the Trump administration.


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