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Trump's claims on nuclear modernization crumble under scrutiny

Against the backdrop of a burgeoning crisis with North Korea, Donald Trump is making bizarre claims about the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

Donald Trump spent the morning tweeting away, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially interesting, except for one online missive about nuclear weapons. Given the context of a burgeoning crisis with North Korea, this presidential message was bound to raise eyebrows:

"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before...."

We talked earlier about how important it is for Americans to be able to trust a leader during a crisis, and Trump's tweet serves as a timely reminder that the president has thrown away whatever credibility he may have brought to the office.

As exercises in fact-checking go, this one's surprisingly easy:

1. Trump's "first order" as president dealt with health care, not the nation's nuclear arsenal.

2. It was actually Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, who launched a massive, multi-year effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

3. For Trump to say, the arsenal "is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," suggests he believes the modernization process is done. That's bonkers: the process has barely started and will take decades to complete.

So, what exactly did Trump do in this area? He signed a rather vague executive order, a week after taking office, directing the Pentagon to "initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."

Apparently, in Trump's mind, that meant he made the nation's nuclear weapons "far stronger and more powerful," but that's not how reality works. The Pentagon's review is still underway -- it started in earnest in April, and is expected to be finished near the end of the year -- and substantively, nothing has actually changed.

All of which leads to the larger, more awkward question: does Trump realize this morning's message is nonsense, or does he believe what he published?