Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday disputed a report by NBC News that President Trump at a Pentagon meeting in July said he wanted to increase the nuclear arsenal by tenfold.
The statement was a rare move for Mattis, who does not often publicly comment on news reports.
“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,” he said.
President Trump also disputed the report during remarks before a bilateral meeting at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“No, I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape. That was just fake news by NBC, which gives a lot of fake news, lately,” Trump said when asked about the report.
In one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered Mattis to review the nuclear force, and Mattis this year has toured different military bases associated with the elements of the nuclear force referred to as the “triad”: land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers.
The review is still ongoing, but Trump said he did not want more weapons.
“I want to have [an] absolutely perfectly maintained — which we are in the process of doing — nuclear force,” he said.
He said he knew that it was “totally unnecessary” to have “ten times” more nuclear weapons, which is what the report claimed.
“We won’t need an increase,” he said. “But I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation. It’s got to be in tip-top shape.”
The report by NBC News comes after it recently reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” at that same July Pentagon meeting. Tillerson held a rare press conference to push back against that report.
Asked if there should be limits on what the press writes, Trump said, “No, the press should speak more honestly.”
“I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press,” he said. “And so when they make up stories like that, that’s just made up. And the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don’t exist. In my opinion, they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.”
NBC News’s latest report was sourced to “three officials who were in the room” at the meeting.
Charlie Spiering contributed to this report.