House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reached out to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about preventing President Trump from accessing the nuclear launch codes, a sign of lawmakers’ growing alarm over what the president could do in the final days of his tenure.
The speaker, in a letter to House Democrats on Friday, said she spoke to the nation’s top military officer, Mark Milley, about the “unstable” and “unhinged” president and his access to America’s nuclear weapons.
“This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 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 wrote.
The speaker’s statement continued, “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.”
A spokesman for General Milley confirmed the call with the speaker saying that the chairman “answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”
CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr broke down the process a sitting president must go through in order to legally assert his power and initiate a nuclear strike.
Starr said that Milley and people at the Pentagon want it known that yes, “a president, any president has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, but is not able to do it on their own.”
“Here are some of the answers about how nuclear launch works in this country,” Starr said. “A president, any president has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons but is not able to do it on their own. There are very complex procedures. And it all starts with any order has to be legal.”
The Pentagon reporter further explained the legal stopgaps that are in place to prevent those who are in power from acting unilaterally.
“There are legal military experts all the way along the chain of command if this were to happen — sitting with the president, sitting with General Milley, sitting with military personnel who are in charge of actually the technical issue of launching weapons. They have to find that an order is legal. The U.S. military is not permitted, of course, to carry out illegal orders.”
She continued, “They would be obligated to resign if there was an illegal order. And actually, it’s a pretty technical process. The president has the authority, but he can’t do it by himself.”
Starr wrapped up her reporting by making it clear that the Pentagon is saying Trump cannot legally trigger a nuclear war “unless the nation is under threat.”
“What experts here at the Pentagon have said in the last few minutes is, to be very clear, nuclear weapons are an issue only if the nation is under threat,” Starr said. “There’s really no legality, no scenario in which a president could just suddenly decide to launch nuclear weapons and have it legal.”
Congressional Democrats are concerned that after the riots at the Capitol this week — which Trump egged on — that the president is a danger and needs to be removed from office. Both Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they tried, but could not reach Vice President Pence about removing Trump by using the 25th Amendment.
“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 wrote. “If the President does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action.”