Defense Secretary Jim Mattis rebuked media reports that President Donald Trump wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal "tenfold" after a meeting with defense officials in July.
Mattis, who does not often comment on the president's statements, found it necessary to put out his own statement Wednesday, saying, "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," the former Marine general said.
NBC News published an investigation earlier Wednesday describing a meeting that took place at the Pentagon on July 20 between Trump; Mattis; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford; Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman; and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, among other top officials.
According to two officials present during the meeting -- during which Tillerson allegedly called Trump a "moron" -- the president was concerned that the U.S.' nuclear weapons stockpile has declined steadily since the 1960s.
The sources told NBC News that Trump wanted a "nearly tenfold increase" in response to current and future threats.
The president himself slammed NBC News' reporting, tweeting, "Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a 'tenfold' increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!"
Yet Trump, then president-elect, tweeted in December, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."
The controversy comes at a time when North Korea remains a significant threat as it continues to conduct intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-Un even threatened to strike Guam, a U.S. territory. He later retracted that threat.
Trump is also expected to refuse to recertify the Iran nuclear deal, kicking the issue to Congress for a 60-day period for debate.
Even with Mattis backing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- the international agreement ratified in 2015 that Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful -- The Washington Post reports Trump may abandon the deal because it does not advance U.S. interests.
Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. in August each received more than $300 million for the GBSD ICBM replacement contracts for technology maturation and risk reduction for the program.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department continues with its Nuclear Posture Review, begun in April and designed to determine what role nuclear weapons should play in U.S. security strategy -- and how many should be in the arsenal.
The results are expected to be announced late this year or early next.