Responding to a report that President Trump wants to dramatically increase the nuclear stockpile, chief of staff John Kelly said that Trump in fact wants to eliminate it altogether.
“In spite of what someone reported the other day about President [Trump],” said Kelly during Thursday’s White House briefing, “What he’s said to me many, many times and to the group oftentimes I hear him most say about nuclear weapons: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of them all, as opposed to we need 10 times more."
Added Kelly: “So even more than when he references maintenance of nuclear weapons, modernization, it doesn’t mean increase in numbers. I hear him talk more, ‘Wouldn’t it be great, how could we get rid of nuclear weapons?’”
NBC News reported earlier this week that in a July meeting at the Pentagon, Trump said he wanted to increase the number of nuclear weapons tenfold. The assembled advisors explained to him why that would be impossible, partly because it would violate international disarmament treaties. NBC reported that this was the same meeting in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump "a moron."
On Twitter, Trump called NBC's report "fake news" and threatened the broadcaster's "license." National networks do not require a license to operate.
In the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump said an increase was "totally unnecessary" and that he wanted the current fleet to be modernized.
“I want to have absolutely, perfectly maintained — which we are in the process of doing — nuclear force,” he said. “But when they said I want 10 times what we have right now, it’s totally unnecessary, believe me, because I know what we have right now. We won’t need an increase but I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation. It’s got to be in tip-top shape.”
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are absolutely false.”