White House chief of staff John Kelly denied claims that President Trump wanted to dramatically increase the number of nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal, stating instead that the president was more interested in eliminating them.
“In spite of what someone reported the other day about President [Trump],” Kelly told a reporter 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,” he added.
Kelly continued: “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?’”
Kelly was responding to a report from NBC News earlier this week that Trump had a July meeting in which he said he wanted a tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal, surprising military and diplomatic officials. The comments reportedly happened in the same meeting that resulted in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling Trump a “moron.”
During a Republican primary debate, Trump credited the power of nuclear weapons as being so massive it provided the United States with security that didn’t require the deployment of military forces.
“With nuclear, the power, the devastation, is very important to me,” added Trump in December 2015.
Trump has fiercely denied the NBC report, even going as far as to threaten the network’s broadcast license.
“I never discussed increasing it,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I wanted it in perfect shape. That was just fake news by NBC.
“Right now we have so many nuclear weapons. I want them to be completely in perfect shape,” the president continued. “We won’t need an increase. I want modernization and I want rehabilitation. It’s got to be in top-top shape.”
He added: “I know the capability we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive. So when they make up stories like that, that’s just made up, and the generals will tell you that. And then they have sources that don’t exist, they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.”
In 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.”
NBC stands by its reporting.
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