Pelosi asks military about keeping Trump from nuclear codes

By Billy House and Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg News, Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the nation’s top military officer about preventing an “unhinged” President Donald Trump from initiating a nuclear strike — something he has the sole authority to do.

In a letter to fellow Democrats released Friday, Pelosi said she spoke to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.”

In a subsequent statement, Joint Chiefs spokesman Dave Butler said only that Pelosi initiated the call with the chairman and “he answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”


The extraordinary request came as Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to have the Cabinet remove Trump from office over his encouragement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

“The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy,” Pelosi said in the letter.

Like any commander in chief, Trump’s power is clear: He has the sole authority to use nuclear weapons. The Pentagon must comply with his orders, and under a worst-case scenario, it would take only about five minutes between the president’s decisions and intercontinental ballistic missiles blasting out of their silos.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Trump’s authority is “inherent in his constitutional role as Commander in Chief.” Military officers could refuse to comply with what they believe is an illegal order and there have been efforts in the past to limit the president’s powers, but Congress currently has no authority to override him.

Pelosi’s letter also cited the broader possibility of Trump “initiating military hostilities” before he leaves offices on Jan. 20. In the last year, House Democrats have sought to limit his ability to launch an attack against Iran, and the president’s critics have expressed increasing concern as tensions have risen in recent weeks that Trump would direct the military to carry out a military strike against the regime in Tehran.

In her letter, Pelosi also urged congressional Republicans to urge Trump to depart office immediately.

“Nearly fifty years ago, after years of enabling their rogue President, Republicans in Congress finally told President Nixon that it was time to go,” Pelosi wrote, referring to the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and others. She said that if Trump doesn’t leave office, the House may move to impeach him again.


In a conference call Friday with House Democrats, Pelosi said Trump is a dangerous man and that moving forward with impeachment could encourage his advisers to get him to resign.

(Anthony Capaccio and Peter Martin contributed to this report.)