It’s verrrry interesting that Fox’s Jennifer Griffin has emerged with the most pro-Milley scoops amid the uproar over Bob Woodward’s new book. Republicans are outraged by the allegations so you’d assume that the GOP’s favorite news channel would be leading the charge in accusing Milley of treachery.
But it’s the opposite. Griffin, the network’s Pentagon correspondents, has been getting the juiciest tips about Milley’s alleged innocence. That can’t be a coincidence. I’m guessing either Milley himself or the administration is targeting Griffin specifically for leaks knowing that it’s harder for righties to dismiss Fox’s reporting as “fake news.” If CNN claims that Milley did nothing wrong, meh. If Jennifer Griffin claims it, huh.
Griffin had sources whispering to her this week that Milley didn’t go “rogue” during his phone calls with China’s top general on October 30 and January 8. There was no “secret” or “freelance” communication between the two; supposedly no less than 15 people were on the calls, including someone from the State Department, and the notes of what was said were circulated to the intelligence community. Griffin’s back with another scoop today, one that contradicts what former acting SecDef Chris Miller told Fox News about Milley’s January 8 call. Miller claimed that he “did not and would not ever authorize” any call between Milley and his Chinese counterpart. Is that so?
Pentagon officials say Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller should have been aware of the call that Gen Milley had with his Chinese counterpart in January because his own deputy for China policy held a similar call with his Chinese counterpart two days before.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 16, 2021
Senior US officials tell Fox News the January 8 call between Gen Milley and Gen Li was initiated by the Chinese, even though preparations had been in the works for some time.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 16, 2021
“OSD” is “Office of the Secretary of Defense,” i.e. Miller’s office. Two high-ranking defense officials spoke to the Chinese that week, one on the day of the riot at the Capitol, and Miller didn’t know about either? Or did he authorize his deputy to speak to China but not Milley? Why would he do that?
Also, has Griffin seen the DOD records personally that show Milley coordinated his call with Miller’s office or is she taking the word of her sources on that? If it’s true then the burden shifts to Miller to explain why he wasn’t aware of what was going on in his own office. Was he just checked out, looking forward to the end of the administration and the daily turmoil? Or was he still new enough to the job at that point (he’d been there two months) that he didn’t yet have a handle on everything that was going on?
WaPo reporter Josh Rogin challenged some of Griffin’s reporting on Tuesday based on his own sources. But he’s out with a column today that generally corroborates what Griffin’s sources are saying, that Milley did nothing outlandishly wrong. If anyone went “rogue,” in fact, it was then-SecDef Mark Esper in October. And it sounds like even Esper wasn’t “going rogue” so much as just not talking to or hearing much from the White House at that point.
First of all, Milley was not freelancing — for the simple reason that the calls were not his idea. Then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper made the decision in mid-October 2020 to send a reassuring message to the Chinese military because of intelligence that China’s leadership was concerned about increased U.S. military activity in the South China Sea.
“Milley was absolutely not going rogue,” a senior Trump Pentagon official told me. “Esper took the initiative on this in October. Esper asked his own policy folks to backchannel the message. Milley’s message followed Esper’s.”
To be clear, Esper’s message to other countries — conveyed by his own policy staff — was one of general reassurance and keeping lines of communication open. It did not include specifics such as the ones reported in Woodward and Costa’s book about a purported Milley promise to warn China before any attack.
Axios has also reported that the October 30 call between Milley and the Chinese general was part of Esper’s outreach to Beijing, to try to defuse tensions that were rising as the White House began talking tough on China in the thick of the campaign and introducing new sanctions. Trump’s team didn’t hear about Esper’s and Milley’s olive branch at first and Esper and Milley didn’t know some of the anti-China measures the White House was working on because, according to Rogin, the two sides weren’t talking much after the falling out over the Lafayette Park fiasco last summer. “Esper and Milley had the authority to do what they did,” Rogin concludes. “But the White House concern was that they were undermining the White House China team’s messaging and actions vis-a-vis Beijing.”
Rogin’s takeaway is that this is less a case of Milley upending the chain of command and making some treasonous pledge to warn the Chinese of an ambush attack than Trump, Esper, and Milley all having big egos that prevented them from being on the same page in their message to China. (No wonder the Chinese were confused and on alert.) That’s a less sexy story than the one Bob Woodward is telling but it might be the truth.
Although it doesn’t account for what Chris Miller did and didn’t know about Milley’s call with China on January 8, by which time Esper was long gone. We need more reporting on that.
By the way, various retired generals and natsec officials have ridden to Milley’s defense in the last few days, including James Stavridis, John Bolton, and Jack Keane, who was reportedly twice offered the job of defense secretary by Trump and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from him last year. “Gen. Milley’s making a phone call to provide reassurances, which is his job,” Keane told Fox yesterday. The ultra-MAGA House Freedom Caucus is demanding that Lloyd Austin investigate Milley to confirm or deny Woodward’s allegations but there’s another governmental body that’s already announced its intention to look into the matter. That would be the anti-MAGA January 6 committee that includes Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. “The facts surrounding steps taken at the Pentagon to protect our security both before and after January 6th are a crucial area of focus for the Select Committee,” Cheney and committee chair Bennie Thompson said in a statement today. I’m looking forward to Milley’s testimony.