WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump over the summer said he wanted what would amount to a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to NBC News on Wednesday, a report that he immediately discounted as “fake news.”
Trump also condemned news media coverage of him in general as “frankly disgusting” while his defense secretary, James Mattis, called the NBC News report “absolutely false.”
At a national security meeting on July 20, Trump was shown a slide charting the reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons over the decades and indicated he wanted the bigger stockpile, not the bottom position of the downward-sloping curve, the outlet reported, citing three unnamed officials in the room.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was at the meeting. NBC News and other outlets have reported that he called Trump a “moron” in the aftermath.
The president rejected the nuclear increase report in Wednesday morning tweets as “pure fiction” and later criticized the news media more broadly and forcefully.
“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” he told reporters during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump said he never wanted an increase in the country’s nuclear weapons, he just wanted them to be in “perfect shape.”
“I want to have an 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.”
Mattis said in his statement: “Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are absolutely false. This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible.”
NBC News said it stands by its reporting.
Its story said the officials in the room didn’t take Trump’s remarks as a literal order for an increase but an indication of his lack of familiarity with nuclear posture.
Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
Federal Communications Commission rules say it only licenses individual broadcast stations, not TV or radio networks.
Trump and the White House have denied Tillerson called the president a “moron” or questioned his intelligence.
Trump said Wednesday that he and Tillerson have a good relationship but aren’t on the same page when it comes on dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“I have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have,” he said. “And I listen to everybody, but ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is.”