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Donald Trump Has Nuclear Codes, But Does He Know How To Use Them?

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the incoming commander of the United States Strategic Command, speaks to reporters earlier this month.
Nati Harnik/AP

A top general has said he’d resist an illegal nuclear strike order from the president at a security forum in Canada last week, a move that did little to reassure some Americans.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, described his plan in Canada last week. “If it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I‘m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal,'" he said.

News analyst Charlie Sennott called the general’s attempt at reassurance “disconcerting.”

“We have a real problem in the White House when we actually have, for the first time in 40 years, a debate around the authorization of whether and how the president is allowed to use the nuclear codes in a nuclear strike,” Sennott said. “We’re thinking about people who don’t trust his ability to make that decision or to do it rationally.”

Sennott said Hyten is tasked with reminding the president what is and isn’t illegal when it comes to a nuclear strike.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had someone in the White House with this low a level of experience of governing. This is a president who has never governed,” he said. “He doesn’t understand legal processes. He doesn’t seem to respect protocol or tradition, and when you get to the nuclear codes, tradition, law, governance, sanity — all these things really, really matter.”

Charlie Sennott is a news analyst here at WGBH where he also heads up the Ground Truth Project. You can catch the GroundTruth Project at Club Passim tomorrow at 7 p.m. for a performance that’s connected with Season Four of their podcast ,“The New American Songbook.” It’s a mix of musical performances and storytelling. To get tickets go to, and to hear his interview in its entirety, click on the audio player above.


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