President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this summer of the nation's highest ranking national security leaders, three officials who were in the room told NBC News.
Trump's comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.
According to the officials present, Trump's advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.
The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a "moron."
Asked for a response to the president's comments, a White House official speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said that the nuclear arsenal was not a primary topic of the briefing. Trump later tweeted that the story is, "Pure fiction," and told reporters, "It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write."
Dana White, spokesperson for the Pentagon said "the Secretary of Defense has many closed sessions with the president and his cabinet members. Those conversations are privileged."