FACT CHECK: Trump’s Claim on Clinton’s Lost Nuclear Codes Holds Water
Written by: Sam Orlando
MIAMI, FL - In an unexpected twist following his arraignment on 37 federal felony charges in Miami, former President Donald Trump pivoted to a startling claim about his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Trump declared that during Clinton’s presidency, the nuclear codes - an essential tool for authorizing a U.S. nuclear strike - had gone missing. We dove into the details to fact-check this surprising assertion. Here’s what we found:
Trump's claim aligns with statements made by General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to Shelton’s 2010 autobiography, "Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior," the incident occurred around 2000.
The nuclear authorization codes, colloquially known as the “biscuit,” are part of the President’s emergency satchel, or “football.” They are intended to be kept close to the President at all times, a responsibility delegated to one of five military aides, each representing a different branch of the military.
According to protocol, an official from a Pentagon department overseeing the nuclear-launch process must visually verify the codes every 30 days, with a full replacement every four months. When the time came for one such check during Clinton’s term, a presidential aide claimed that Clinton was in possession of the codes but couldn’t be disturbed due to an important meeting. This situation apparently repeated itself the following month with another official who was given the same response.
The debacle unraveled when it came time to replace the set of codes entirely. The aide then admitted that the old codes had been missing for months. In Shelton's words, "The President never did have them, but he assumed, I'm sure, that the aide had them like he was supposed to."
Shelton and then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen were understandably alarmed. The codes were changed, and the verification process was adjusted to require physical viewing of the codes, with the inspecting official waiting as long as necessary to do so. The incident remained under wraps until Shelton's account was published in 2010.
It's crucial to understand that the loss of the nuclear codes doesn't mean the President could have accidentally launched a nuclear strike, but it does indicate a potentially serious security and protocol breach. Had the United States come under nuclear attack during that time, experts say it is possible that our country may have been unable to respond. As Shelton wrote in his book, "You do whatever you can and think you have an infallible system, but somehow someone always seems to find a way to screw it up."
While the circumstances of the charges against Trump may be up for legal debate, his claim about the lost nuclear codes during the Clinton administration stands as true, based on General Shelton’s account.