(WASHINGTON) -- Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back strongly Tuesday on recent characterizations of his phone calls to China's top military official and denied that he had placed himself in the chain of command for nuclear launch protocols following a phone call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give, My loyalty is absolute, and I will not turn my back on the fallen," Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after with Secretary Esper and Acting Secretary Miller’s staffs and the interagency," he told the committee. "The specific purpose of the October and January calls was generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the U.S.
Milley's phone calls were first made public in the new book "Peril" by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
"I know, I am certain, that President Trump did not intend on attacking the Chinese and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese," said Milley. "My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: calm, steady: De-escalate. We are not going to attack you."
"At Secretary of Defense Esper’s direction, I made a call to General Li on 30 October. Eight people sat in the call with me, and I read out the call within 30 minutes of the call ending," he said.
ABC News had previously reported that former Defense Secretary Mark Esper had directed Milley to contact his Chinese counterpart as part of a coordinated effort after the U.S. intelligence reports emerged suggesting China's concerns about a military strike.
Milley added that the second call on January 8 was prompted by a Chinese request for him to call again that had been made on December 31, 2020
"Eleven people attended the call with me. Read-outs of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day," he said. "Shortly after my call ended with General Li, I informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House chief of staff Meadows about the call among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting Secretary Miller where I briefed him on the call."
Milley also explained how later that day he received a call from Pelosi inquiring "about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process."
"She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president," said Milley. "I explained that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority and he doesn’t launch them alone. And that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.
"There are processes, protocols, and procedures in place and I repeatedly assured her there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized, or accidental launch," he told the committee.
After the phone call Milley said he met with key staffers "to refresh all of us on these procedures, which we practice daily at the action officer level. "
He rejected criticism of that meeting that he was placing himself in the chain of command for nuclear attack protocols.
"At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command, but I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed on military matters," said Milley.
He told the committee that after his staff meeting he notified Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller about Pelosi's calls.