Former President Donald Trump’s allies in Congress plan to use congressional investigations to spotlight one of his most prominent critics — Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley — if Republicans take control about taking over the House in the November midterm elections. say six people familiar with the plans.
The plans include launching multiple lines of surveillance that Republicans would place to grill Milley. They would cover the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, criticism that the military has “waked up” too much during Milley’s tenure, and questions about military preparedness that would focus on how he spends his time.
“For our members, he’s a great lightning rod,” said a Republican familiar with the House GOP’s plans. “Republicans want to answer a lot of things, and Mark Milley, because of his position and public comments, including in books, is the person to answer.”
Milley has also been vilified by conservative media personalities such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who called him “stupid” and “a pig” and accused him of treason. And a Republican House candidate called for Milley to perform on live television.
Milley has received dozens of death threats from Trump supporters in the past year, US defense officials say.
The officials said the threats against Milley began after he defended a course at the US Military Academy at West Point on critical race theory by arguing that leaders should understand different points of view and invoking the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“I want to understand white anger, and I’m white,” Milley said during congressional testimony last June. “So, what is it that led thousands of people to attack this building and try to overthrow the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find out.”
Since President Joe Biden took office, Milley has been cast in several books about the Trump administration as a sharp critic of the former president.
In the books, for which Milley spent hours in interviews, he is cited as defying some of Trump’s orders and comparing his actions to Hitler’s.
Two defense officials said Milley is aware of the GOP’s plans to investigate his actions, although he is not taking additional steps to prepare for the surveillance. The officials said such investigations could escalate threats against him and other military leaders.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the Pentagon would be part of investigations if the GOP wins in November, and the top Republicans on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees have asked the Biden administration to documents related to the withdrawal of Afghanistan.
“If the House Republicans get the majority, we will closely monitor the actions of the Biden administration and that includes those of the Defense Department,” said Mark Bednar.
Some Trump congressional allies view Milley’s criticisms of the former president, including that Trump was in mental decline and causing irreparable damage to the country, as disobedient and disrespectful to the commander in chief he was to serve, according to Republicans familiar with the plans for the investigations.
They intend to allege that Milley was contemptuous and attempted to seize Trump’s military authority or powers, they said.
“President Trump was his boss, his commander in chief, and Milley was his subordinate. Milley’s role is to advise his military and then carry out his orders, not to undermine the president if he disagrees with him,” said a second Republican familiar with the plans.
In “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,” by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Milley is quoted as telling aides he feared Trump would stage a coup after the 2020 election. , referring to Hitler and saying “This is” a Reichstag moment.”
Milley was similarly cast as Trump’s critic in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril.” In it, Milley is quoted as telling former first lady Michelle Obama at Biden’s January inauguration, which Trump did not attend, that although she couldn’t see it behind his mask, “Nobody today has a bigger smile than me.”
On Afghanistan, Republicans plan to push Milley on two aspects of the US withdrawal: his role in shaping the conditions under which troops can leave, and whether he has done enough to prepare for the effort, according to Republicans familiar with the schedule.
Joint Staff spokesman Colonel Dave Butler said the Joint Staff “welcomes a further assessment of Afghanistan, adding that the Pentagon has “recently completed a post-action assessment and that we will cooperate fully with the Congressional Committee on Afghanistan.” “
He said the chairman has not been contacted by any member of Congress about pending testimony or new questions, saying “he considers it his responsibility to keep our lawmakers informed.”
“The chairman has answered every question from a member of Congress in person or in writing,” Butler said. “He has answered hundreds of written questions, testified dozens of times in private, secret hearings and publicly. He never turned down a Congressional request to testify.”
‘Fight from within’
The GOP planning comes amid growing concerns about the politicization of the US military, and investigations seen as targeting Milley could fuel those concerns. Eight former defense ministers and five former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently warned in an open letter of the effect of political polarization on the military. Milley has already been at the center of the issue – seen as both a contributor to polarization and a victim of it.
A new course at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, will examine whether Milley’s actions as chairman, as described in the Trump administration’s books, have violated the norms that govern civil-military relations and have further affected the military. politicized.
In “The Divider: Trump in the White House,” by reporters Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Milley is quoted as saying in the final year of Trump’s presidency that he would “fight from within” against what he saw as an increasingly erratic commanding chief. . A person close to Milley said that while it is correct, the chairman said he would “fight” Trump from within, he meant that he would push back on issues and offer advice and counsel, even if it conflicted with the views of Mr. the president.
Another example where Milley has been criticized as violating military standards is his decision, dressed in combat attire, to walk with Trump from the White House across Lafayette Square, which had just been aggressively cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters. Milley later apologized to members of the military for their presence.
Others defend Milley, saying that his job as chairman — he was tapped for the role by Trump in 2018 — was a difficult one that required extraordinary actions and that he did not violate civil-military relations.
“He didn’t defy the president,” said Peter Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University who focuses on civil-military relations. “He did what was expected of him, although it seems like he was thinking about the president in a way.”
A former U.S. military official who worked with Milley during his time as president said Milley was acting entirely in his role as an adviser to the president while Trump was in the Oval Office.
“He gave his best military advice to the president and nothing I have seen indicates that he has violated civil-military standards,” the former official said. “Now he’s being dragged before Congress to answer questions about policy and service decisions that aren’t even under his authority.”
US military officials also expressed concern that Trump’s allies are targeting the military as an institution they say has “awakened” and targeting Pentagon leaders who were in position when the agency implemented controversial policies such as demanding Covid vaccines for all troops and civilians.
“The military is not awake, whatever that means,” said a US military official. Referring to Milley, the official said: “If there are any investigations into these claims, you have to wonder what the point here is. Is it to smear a man with 43 years of service or to damage our military? It will probably do both.” to do.”
Republicans familiar with the investigation schedule said the effort to force Milley to answer questions about his decisions and comments is part of Congress’ oversight obligations under the Constitution and is intended to hold the Department of Defense accountable. to keep.
“It’s not about him as a man,” said the first Republican familiar with the Milley plans. “It’s about the decisions he’s made and the things he’s said.”