NBC host Matt Lauer on Thursday asked former CIA Director John Brennan whether military officials surrounding President Donald Trump would "tackle him" before he engaged in a nuclear confrontation.
Brennan replied that Trump has unilateral authority to authorize military action.
Recent Stories in National Security
Lauer asked Brennan hesitantly about reports surrounding America's procedure to deploy nuclear weapons under Trump, emphasizing the stories of "key players around the president" maybe locking Trump in a room or even tackling him to prevent the use of such weapons.
"I feel weird asking you this, but you've read the same stories I've read," Lauer said to Brennan. "You know the key players around the president in [Jim] Mattis, [H.R.] McmMaster, and John Kelly. Stories are going around out there that if the president inches closer to some kind of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea, that those guys are going to do something. They're going to lock him in a room. They're going to tackle him."
"You're smiling," Lauer added. "But these are the stories that are out there. And they will prevent him from carrying out any action that would cause that. Is that all nonsense?"
"No, I think the military leaders, current and former, Mattis, Kelly, also Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, they know the risks of escalation," said Brennan, who served as CIA director during the Obama administration. "They know just how dangerous the situation is. I think they are governors on the president's instincts to continue to try to intimidate and bully."
"You're technically not answering the question. Would they take some action to prevent the president from carrying out an order?" Lauer asked.
"The president has unilateral authority to be able to authorize military action," Brennan said. "That order goes through Secretary Mattis. Secretary Mattis can try to talk him out of it, disagree with it, carry it out, or not."
After Brennan walked Lauer through the usual White House process of authorizing military actions, Lauer pushed his original question about tackling Trump, using a quote from Brennan.
"In July you said it is the obligation of some executive officials to refuse to carry out some of those orders that are inconsistent with what this country is all about," Lauer quoted Brennan.
Brennan clarified that he made that comment "in the context" of the firing of former FBI Director Jim Comey and the efforts to "delay and to put obstacles in some of the investigations that are underway."
"We are a country of laws," Brennan added.
Co-host Savannah Guthrie then asked Brennan if he, Secretary of Defense Mattis, White House Chief of Staff Kelly, Gen. Dunford, and National Security Adviser McMaster would disobey an order if they felt the order would endanger America.
Brennan said that if he were ordered to reinstitute waterboarding, then he would refuse and say the president would have to fire him.
As for the top national security officials currently serving in the Trump administration, "it all depends on the circumstances," Brennan said. "They are patriots, all of them, and they understand the gravity of the situation. They understand the gravity, and I don't believe Mr. Trump does."