Mattis calls report Trump wanted to expand US nuclear arsenal 'absolutely false'

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday denied reports President Donald Trump wanted to increase the US nuclear-weapons stockpile tenfold.

"Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the US nuclear arsenal are absolutely false," Mattis said in a statement. "This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible."

According to an NBC News report published early on Wednesday, Trump expressed dismay at the state of the US nuclear arsenal in a July 20 meeting after seeing a chart showing the decline of the stockpile since the 1960s.

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Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

(CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

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Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Trump reportedly said he didn't want to be at the bottom position on the chart's downward-sloping curve and called for a tenfold increase.

Prior to Mattis' statement, Trump himself rejected the report. "Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a 'tenfold' increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean," Trump tweeted, comparing NBC to CNN, which he has also inveighed against over what he has deemed "fake news."

According to the NBC News report, Trump's call for an increase in the nuclear stockpile surprised the officials present at the meeting, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Officials then explained to Trump the legal and practical hurdles to such an expansion of the US's nuclear arsenal and told him that the current military posture was stronger than when that arsenal was at its peak.

The meeting, a review of the US military's forces and operations worldwide, was at times contentious, and, according to a previous NBC News report, at its conclusion, some officials present heard Tillerson refer to Trump as a "moron."

Asked about Tillerson's supposed comment in a Forbes interview published on Tuesday, Trump called it "fake news," though he added, "But if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests, and I can tell you who is going to win."

Later on Tuesday, when asked if he had confidence in his secretary of state, Trump said only "yes."

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