President Donald Trump on Wednesday rejected as “pure fiction” an NBC News report that a few months ago he suggested a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and questioned whether it was time to revoke the network’s government license to operate.
Trump’s comments on the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, now at about 4,000 weapons, came at a Pentagon meeting with top military and national security officials in July, NBC said, citing the recollections of three people who were there. Trump was responding to a briefing slide charting the steady reduction in the size of the country’s stockpile since the 1960s and he indicated he wanted a bigger arsenal, the network said.
Officials at the meeting, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were reported to have voiced surprise at Trump’s suggestion and briefly explained the legal and practical restraints on a nuclear buildup, much of which is dictated by international arms control treaties. The officials told NBC that no U.S. nuclear buildup is planned.
As a candidate during his run for the White House, Trump was quoted as asking a foreign policy adviser what the point was of having nuclear capability if the U.S. did not use the weapons.
Currently, Trump is in the midst of two international disputes involving nuclear weapons. Trump is set this week to refuse certification that Iran is complying with an international pact to curb its international weapons development and has carried out an exchange of bellicose taunts with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
It was soon after the Pentagon meeting in July that Tillerson described the U.S. leader’s intelligence in harsh terms, uttering an expletive and calling him a “moron,” according to U.S. news accounts. Tillerson has since said he is committed to his job as the top U.S. diplomat and working for Trump, but has not denied that he made the remark.
Trump suggested in recent days that he and Tillerson square off intellectually by each taking IQ tests, with the president saying he has no doubt that he would score higher. The White House said Tuesday that Trump’s remarks were meant as a joke.
In Twitter comments, Trump compared NBC’s reporting to that of CNN, the cable news network that has often drawn his ire after it aired stories he did not like.
In the U.S., freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. But over-the-air television networks like NBC are regulated by the government, while cable channels like CNN for the most part are not.