Gen. Mark Milley on Sept. 29 defended talking to political reporters even as he asserted he was misrepresented by at least one of them.
Milley has acknowledged speaking to reporters for three separate books, including “Peril,” which was authored by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, though, has challenged some of the portrayals in the books, including claims he told a Chinese general that he would warn him if the United States were going to attack China.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), during a Sept. 29 House Armed Services Committee hearing, wondered why Milley would spend hours speaking to the reporters, who are all focused on politics.
“I believe part of my job is to communicate to the media what we do as a military and the military. So, I do interviews regularly with print media, books, documentaries, TV interviews. I think it’s part of a senior official’s job to be transparent, and I believe in a free press,” Milley said.
Banks countered that Milley should be embarrassed about his portrayal in “Peril.” The book says Milley, speaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in January, agreed with her when she claimed that then-President Donald Trump was crazy.
“I know that portrayal is wrong. I know what I said, which is, ‘Madam Speaker, I am not qualified to determine the mental health or assess the mental health of this president or any president,'” Milley said.
He also said he didn’t recall mentioning two media organizations in notes about the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, which the book said he did.
Speaking before a Senate panel on Sept. 28, Milley said he speaks to reporters to “make sure these authors have correct information.” In the case of Bob Woodward, one of the authors of “Peril,” “they approach my guys to say are these facts true?; this is what we heard,” Milley said.
On Sept. 29, despite challenging key portions of Woodward’s book, Milley said he doesn’t regret speaking with him.
“No. I think it is important for me to speak to the media,” he said.
A number of Republicans have expressed disbelief that Milley took time to talk with the reporters, particularly in light of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal that Milley oversaw last month.
“I think what you did with making time to talk to these authors, burnishing your image, building that bluster, but then not putting the focus on Afghanistan and what was happening there,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told him during the hearing with the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
“This is causing just a lot of anger from people who have trusted the military. They have felt like the military was one of the most trustworthy institutions, but in order to get a name in the book, in order to ‘not be drawn into a political fight,’ what you have managed to do is to politicize the U.S. military, to downgrade our reputation with our allies.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) charged, “You spent more time with Bob Woodward on this book than you spent analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghanistan government was going to fall immediately to the Taliban, didn’t you?”
“Not even close, congressman,” Milley responded.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee, on Sept. 29 spoke up in support of Milley.
“I will note for the record that I was quoted in the book as well and a lot of what I said was conflated and not 100 percent accurately portrayed,” he said. “It does happen. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s an accurate portrayal. It could be a misunderstanding of what was actually said.”
The authors of “Peril” didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to their publisher, Simon & Schuster.