House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she spoke with the nation’s top military officers about preventing President Trump from launching a military attack or nuclear strike in his final days in office. The conversation came as Pelosi leads an effort to remove Mr. Trump from office less than two weeks before the end of his term.
“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 in a letter to House Democrats.
“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 Milley, Army Col. Dave Butler, said in a brief statement: “Speaker Pelosi initiated a call with the Chairman. He answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”
The president of the United States has sole authority to order a nuclear strike, and the decision does not have to be approved by Congress or the military. But military leaders have previously stated they understand their responsibility to not carry out illegal orders. The nuclear football — a suitcase with communication tools and plans for using nuclear codes — is carried by a military aide near the president at all times.
The former top commander of U.S. nuclear forces under President Trump said in 2017 that he would push back on an illegal nuclear strike.
“I provide advice to the president,” Air Force General John E. Hyten told the Halifax International Security Forum. “He’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what is going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?'”
Hyten is now the vice chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, ranking directly under Milley.
Pelosi’s letter also addresses the continued fallout from Wednesday’s riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, in which a Capitol Police officer and four other people died. The siege came after Mr. Trump held a rally nearby and told supporters to go to the Capitol as Congress counted the electoral votes affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Since then, lawmakers in both parties have spoken about Mr. Trump’s removal, either through the 25th Amendment or another impeachment proceeding. Pelosi in her letter said she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had reached out to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday to discuss the 25th Amendment, although so far they have not spoken.
“We still hope to hear from him as soon as possible with a positive answer as to whether he and the Cabinet will honor their oath to the Constitution and the American people,” Pelosi wrote.
The California Democrat also referenced how, at the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency nearly 50 years ago, his fellow Republicans banded together and told him “it was time to go.”
“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.”