Pelosi spoke to top US army chief about keeping nuclear codes from 'unhinged' Trump

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters in Washington on January 7, 2021.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters in Washington on January 7, 2021. © Erin Scott, REUTERS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to the top US military commander on Friday about taking precautions to ensure that President Donald Trump cannot initiate hostilities or order a nuclear strike in his remaining days in office.


Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers that she spoke to Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about what measures are available to rein in Trump.

"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," Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.

The Speaker later said in a conference call with House Democrats that Milley assured her there are steps in place that would prevent Trump from firing nuclear weapons, according to a source familiar with the call.

The move came two days after rioters egged on by Trump's false claims of election fraud stormed the US Capitol amid chaotic scenes that shocked the world and sparked calls for the president to be removed from office.

While Pelosi's letter highlights the concern among lawmakers about what Trump may try to do during his remaining time in office, there are questions about what Milley or anyone could actually do to stop a president from using nuclear weapons.

"There is no legal way to do this. The president has sole, unfettered authority to order the use of nuclear weapons with no 'second vote' required," said Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California.

However, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that any use of nuclear weapons is a highly deliberative process.

Milley's office said that Pelosi had initiated the call and Milley "answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority," without elaborating further.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20. Trump said earlier on Friday he would not attend the inauguration, breaking with a long-standing tradition in American presidential transitions.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, also said she had not heard back from Vice President Mike Pence about whether he would agree to top Democrats' request that he invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office "for his incitement of insurrection and the danger he still poses."

She said that "we still hope to hear from him as soon as possible with a positive answer".

Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate have said that if Pence does not agree to the request, Democrats were prepared to impeach Trump a second time.

Articles of impeachment are expected to be introduced on Monday, with a House vote as soon as Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the planning and granted anonymity to discuss it.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning