In her continuing attempt to damage President Trump, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi today published a ‘dear colleague’ letter that referred to her call to General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Her letter, coming after Wednesday’s chaos in the Capitol, is part of an attempt to pressure some in Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to designate Trump mentally unfit and remove him from office in his remaining 12 days in office.
The letter noted that she called Milley “to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.” In the letter, she referred to President Trump as ‘unhinged.”
According to Defense One, Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for Milley, said that he “answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”
Milley, while technically the nation’s top military officer, serves in a purely advisory capacity. He has no operational authority and is not in the Pentagon’s chain of command — which goes from the president to the secretary of defense directly to the 11 unified combatant commanders.
In the case of nuclear weapons release the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) — formerly the Strategic Air Command (SAC) — would be the one to execute the president’s nuclear launch orders.
The president, who is always accompanied by a military aide carrying “the football,” a leather case containing the nuclear codes and options for the commander-in-chief, has sole authority to launch a nuclear strike.
Still, “The President by himself cannot press a button and cause missiles to fly. He can only give an authenticated order which others would follow and then missiles would fly,” Dr. Peter Feaver, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, told congressional lawmakers in 2018, reported CNN.
“The system is not a button that the President can accidentally lean on against the desk and immediately cause missiles to fly as some people in the public, I think, fear it would be,” Feaver testified.
CNN noted that Feaver added that “the decision to launch a strike requires the President to work with military aides possessing the materials he needs to order an attack, as well as personnel at all levels, from top commanders all the way down to service members working in the missile silos.”
If needed, the President would be guided by the highly classified OPLAN 8044 and OPLAN 8010 which are both successor plans to the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the general plan for nuclear war during the Cold War from 1961 to 2003.
He would also follow the latest Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP).
And, as Pelosi certainly knows after decades in government, the order to launch a strike must be legal and those in the chain of command below the President are not required to follow any illegal orders. This is as true now, as it has always been.
To highlight that point, Gen. John Hyten, currently the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was President Trump’s former head of STRATCOM responsible for the nation’s nuclear forces. At the Halifax Security Forum in 2017, Hyten said that he wouldn’t accept an illegal order from the president to launch a nuclear attack.
“He’ll tell me what to do and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m gonna say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’” Which is why Pelosi’s letter is mostly showboating, and part of a bigger ploy.
Pelosi’s real intent was clear. She said in her letter that she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had reached out to Vice President Mike Pence to urge him to initiate 25th Amendment proceedings to remove the president.
She added that they “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.”
Not only is this action to remove Trump now highly unlikely but could be the single most dangerous idea for our highly divided and polarized country as it sits on a tinderbox. Pelosi should reign in her baser partisan impulses and simply allow President Trump to leave office as planned in 12 days.
That is the best way to protect and heal the country.