Summary List Placement
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that she discussed with the highest-ranking US general about possible ways to stop President Donald Trump from accessing the nuclear codes and launching a strike during his last days in office.
“This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“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,” she continued.
A spokesperson for Milley’s office told Insider that “Speaker Pelosi initiated a call with the Chairman” and that he “answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”
Pelosi told her caucus that Milley assured her that there are safeguards are in place to prevent an illegal order to nuclear weapons, sources on the call told CNN’s Dana Bash.
Trump, as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, has broad powers to direct military operations without immediate oversight, as was seen with the drone strike that eliminated a top Iranian general last January and nearly ignited a war between the US and Iran.
The president also has unilateral control over the nuclear arsenal, which consists of silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and absolute authority to order a nuclear strike.
Wherever he goes, the president is followed by a military aide carrying a briefcase known as the “president’s emergency satchel” or the “nuclear football” that contains the necessary communication tools, codes, and options for nuclear war. The president uses a card he carries on his person in coordination with the contents of the satchel to order a strike.
The president’s Cabinet and military leaders can refuse to obey the president’s order though in certain circumstances. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, for instance, said in 2017, when he was leading US Strategic Command, that he would resist an “illegal” nuclear strike order.
“If it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal,'” Hyten, then the top US nuclear commander, said at an international security forum.
The president can remove and replace military leaders who object to his order, but he would still have to successfully persuade the replacement that the order was lawful.
Trump’s former White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, said Thursday that “no one around him anymore is going to break the law” in the final days of this administration. “He can give all the orders he wants,” Kelly added.
That said, the definition of an “illegal” nuclear strike order is highly subjective. As Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes, the use of nuclear weapons is not inherently illegal and some moves could potentially pass a Law of Armed Conflict review.
“So, we might imagine a valid order from Trump to deliver a nuclear weapon to—say—Toronto: obviously illegal,” Panda tweeted Friday. “But—say—an order to deliver an earth-penetrating B61 to Fordow in Iran? That would likely clear LOAC review and be executed by the National Military Command Center.”
Pelosi’s conversation with Milley, the details of which are limited, comes two days after Trump’s supporters violently stormed the US Capitol, delaying efforts by Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election.
Her statement adds to escalating efforts by Democrats and at least one Republican to limit Trump’s power during his remaining 12 days as president. Many have called for the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would remove Trump from office, as well as impeachment.
In her statement, Pelosi reiterated calls for the 25th Amendment and warned that if Trump is not removed, Congress “will proceed with our action.”
“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 said. “Today, following the President’s dangerous and seditious acts, Republicans in Congress need to follow that example and call on Trump to depart his office – immediately.”
Pelosi’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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