Start the clock on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley. It’s been clear for some time that Milley is tired of supporting Trump’s misuse of the military and efforts to insert active forces into nonviolent protests. Milley was pulled into Trump’s attack on protesters in Lafayette Square and the wholly inappropriate stroll across the street so Trump could wave a Bible over a deserted church, but following that event, Milley apologized for being part of Trump’s PR stunt, saying, “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” But criticizing Trump’s actions is one thing. On Thursday, Milley did the one thing unforgivable for the Trump White House—he criticized Russia. And he did so in a way that entangles the actions of Trump and Vladimir Putin.
“If in fact there’s bounties,” said Milley, “I am an outraged general. If, in fact, there’s bounties directed by the government of Russia or any of their institutions to kill American soldiers, that’s a big deal. That’s a real big deal.” Now if the media would only treat it that way.
Of course Milley did walk across to the church, despite knowing it was wrong. And he did back off his outraged general act long enough to provide the latest excuse for Team Trump.
The story of Russia paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers and throw a monkey wrench into ongoing peace talks is just two weeks old, and every day it seems that another shoe drops. Even so, the attention it’s getting is decidedly tiny.
We now know this wasn’t a singular or marginal intelligence report. It was the result of a series of reports that went back to shortly after Trump took office. Intelligence first suggested that Russia was involved in sending financial aid to the Taliban as early as 2017 while Michael Flynn was still in charge of the NSA. By 2019, the story of bounties being paid for the murder of American and allied forces was John Bolton gave Trump a personal briefing and U. S. intelligence shared the information with allied nations. Six months ago, police raided locations in Afghanistan and located men directly involved in transferring Russian funds to the Taliban—along with a stack of cash. In February of this year, the information was covered again in Trump’s daily brief.
This is not a wild idea. This is the consensus opinion of U. S. intelligence, and has been for over a year.
The question put to Milley during a hearing in the House wasn’t whether he believed Russia is engaged in these payments; it’s obvious they are. The question is: Why isn’t Trump doing anything about it? That brought on Milley’s claim of outrage, but it also immediately generated a significant incident of weasel-wording.
Rather than directly address the fact that Trump is not just failing to act against Russia, but openly supporting Russia’s cause over that of allies, Milley instead moved to a different issue. He claimed that if there are Russian bounties, then we’re not sure they’re connected to specific casualties. In other words, we know:
- Russia was offering money to the Taliban for the death of Americans
- Americans were killed by the Taliban following Russia’s offer.
- Russia delivered money to the Taliban through a series of intermediaries.
But we can’t be sure that any specific murder of U. S. forces was paid for by a specific payment to the Taliban. That’s apparently enough uncertainty for Milley to moderate his outrage.
Still, even though Milley was miles away from the clear presentation of the intelligence assessment, he’s even further away from Trump, who continues to describe the whole thing as “a hoax.” Which is a good sign that General Mark Milley may soon discover how much nicer it would be to join all the rest of “Trump’s generals” … in retirement.