Sep 16, 2021 - Podcasts

A crisis for Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley

Did Gen. Mark Milley go too far? That’s the question in Washington today after newly released excerpts of the new book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are calling into question the top U.S. general's role during the Trump administration.

  • Plus, how teen mental health is affected by the pandemic.
  • And, survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse call out the FBI.

Guests: Axios' Jonathan Swan and Penn State University's Paul Harris.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, September 16th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: how teen mental health is affected by the pandemic. Plus, survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse call out the FBI. But first, a crisis for Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark today’s One Big Thing.

Did General Mark Milley go too far? That's the question in Washington after newly released excerpts of the latest book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are calling into question Milley's role during the Trump administration. Axios’ political reporter. Jonathan Swan has been reporting out what he's learned about not just the Joint Chief Chairman, Mark Milley, as well as then defense secretary Mark Esper. Hi, Jonathan.


NIALA: Can you tell us what this is all about?

JONATHAN: Like many of the other Trump books that have already come out ,and our own reporting at Axios, they detailed very serious, intense concerns that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, had in the final days of the Trump presidency, and certain actions he took to try and, in his mind, safeguard the Republic from the Commander In Chief. But there's two phone calls in particular, which, uh, are getting a lot of attention. They’re between Milley and his Chinese counterparts, on October 30th and January 8th. And in the Woodward Costa account, Milley reportedly gives assurances to the Chinese general that Trump is not going to attack China. And that if Trump was to attack then Milley would give his Chinese counterpart a phone call, effectively a secret heads up. We have corroborated that he-he did have these phone calls with the Chinese general. The part of it I haven't been able to confirm is that he would give them a call in advance of an attack, which would have-would be an extraordinary thing for a military leader to do.

NIALA: What does your reporting show about the role of then defense secretary, Mark Esper in all of this as well?

JONATHAN: What I gathered from multiple sources who were involved in this, in mid-October last year, top Pentagon officials started to see the Chinese leaders were consuming really bad intelligence that suggested that Trump might do a surprise strike against China before the election. It was Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, who was worried, the Chinese were misreading the situation and that this could lead to an unintended war between the two nuclear powers. So he tells his policy office, listen, guys, go send a back channel message to the Chinese, you know, reassure them. Don't over-read what you're seeing in Washington. We've got no intention to attack. This happens. Officials involved thought the Chinese received the message well. And then General Milley followed up later in the month, this is the October 30th call, by calling his Chinese counterpart, to reiterate the message. One wrinkle here is it's unclear whether anyone at the Pentagon told President Trump or The White House, what they were doing. The White House is um defending Milley. He's going to have a very, very brutal, hearing on Capitol Hill on September the 28th, he's he's due to face the Senate Armed Services Committee. You are going to see extremely hostile questioning, particularly from the Republicans about what Milley did or didn't do, did, or didn't say, behind the scenes, in the final days of the Trump presidency.

NIALA: Jonathan Swan covers politics for Axios. Thanks, Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Thank you.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: caring for teens struggling during the pandemic.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. We've been talking kids and Covid this week and today we're turning to teenagers. Even when it's not a pandemic, teens have to navigate so many transitions, emotionally, physically, socially, and more. And so it may be no surprise that teenagers have seen rates of depression and anxiety rise during Covid-19. Now, as we embark on a new school year for some teenagers, the first in person since early 2020, Dr. Paul Harris is here to talk us through mental health and teens in this moment. Hi, Dr. Harris, thanks for coming back to Axios Today.

PAUL HARRIS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: How are you understanding the scope of the problem now when we think about mental health and teenagers?

PAUL: You know, I was working in the high schools for several years as a counselor, prior to going into academia. And even then, there were just increased incidences of mental health challenges, and not enough care necessarily to serve all of the need. You have way more students now going through perhaps developmentally appropriate challenges, with no. Mechanism or minimal mechanisms to catch it and be more preventative, and help them to cope well. Not to mention the social interaction that they're rarely getting, which is so crucial to their development overall. Lots of contributors, those are just a few, but we are, we're seeing more incidences that we're aware of, of mental health challenges, behavior challenges, depression, anxiety. And I think it's interesting, you have say over 3 million students who are served by school-based mental health services, low-income students in particular, racial minority students and so now we're their home. And so the access is even more limited. And so for reasons such as that, the pandemic has only exacerbated the mental health challenges that teenagers have been experiencing not to mention the social interaction that they're rarely getting which is so crucial to their development.

NIALA: I got a text message from one of our listeners, Jon in Minneapolis, who I think reflects a question that many parents have right now. He asked what level of anxiety surrounding school issues like crowded buses, new classes or clothing choices is normal versus when should parents seek professional help?

PAUL: First of all, that's a really good question. And it's hard to know. I think generally we like to think of those manifestations of anxiety that disrupt all aspects of life. So we think about severity and we think how long or how sustained that anxiety is, right? Do they seem to be having a panic attack, unable to speak, hyperventilating, perhaps? And are you seeing this anxiety manifest in such a way that it's disrupting their daily lives, right? It's hard for them to focus on homework. It's hard for them to sit and watch TV. It's hard for them to do all of these things that daily they used to do, why not consult the people that hopefully are in your sphere of influence, like the school and the counselors there to get a sense for what even you can be looking for to better help your child cope with whatever they're experiencing at the time.

NIALA: Dr. Paul Harris is an associate professor of counselor education at Penn State University. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Dr. Harris.

PAUL: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: After devastating Congressional testimony yesterday from some of the world’s most famous gymnasts, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized for how the agency handled the investigation into sexual abuse by former Olympic Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Maggie Nichols, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles testified before a Senate judiciary committee meeting about how the FBI mishandled their reports.

MAGGIE NICHOLS: I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nasser.

MCKAYLA MARONEY: Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report, 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.

ALY RAISMAN: It disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.

SIMONE BILES: To be clear. I blame Larry Nassar. I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

NIALA: And, one final story before we end today: last night, the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi, members of the Sikh and Muslim communities, and other faiths gathered at a gas station in Mesa, Arizona to remember the first American murdered in a hate crime after the 9/11 attacks. His brother, Rana, spoke to the local ABC station at a memorial in 2016.

RANA SINGH SODHI: He killed my brother bc he thought the turban and beard not belong to this country. We are a part of this country, and this community.

NIALA: I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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