Among the disturbing footage played during Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is a clip of a military aide following Mike Pence, as he was being rushed to safety during the Capitol riots, holding what defence experts now identify as the “nuclear football” — an emergency satchel containing nuclear strike codes.
The startling footage was aired on the second day of the Senate impeachment trial by House impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett. The footage showed the evacuation of the then vice president Mr Pence and his family even as a mob chanted, “hang Mike Pence” alongside a makeshift gallows erected at the Capitol building.
A nuclear football (a briefcase) and the “nuclear biscuit” (the activation codes) is an “emergency satchel” carried by a military aide accompanying the vice president at all times. The satchel contains the equipment and codes to launch a nuclear attack.
“As the rioters reached the top of the stairs, they were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family, and they were just feet away from one of the doors to this chamber,” Ms Plaskett said on Wednesday as she presented the video in the Senate.
Lawmakers were told that the 6 January insurrection had brought pro-Trump rioters dangerously close to the “nuclear football”.
“The fifth person through the door behind Vice President Pence in this video is his military aide carrying his duplicate nuclear “Football,” which—just like the briefcase that follows the president 24/7—follows the vice president everywhere s/he goes,” Stephen Schwartz, a non-resident senior fellow with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said on Twitter.
Experts noted that though the insurrectionists could not have launched a nuclear attack because of security controls, but they posed a threat of revealing classified information to the world.
Mr Schwartz told Business Insider that it was also unlikely that the mob could have got its hands on the bag as the rioters would have to “kill all of Mr Pence's Secret Service agents, kill or incapacitate the military aide, and open the briefcase”.
Another expert on the matter, Kingston Reif, told CNN, “The risk associated with the insurrectionists getting their hands on Mr Pence's football wasn't that they could have initiated an unauthorised launch. But had they stolen the football and acquired its contents, which include pre-planned nuclear strike options, they could have shared the contents with the world.”
The briefcase follows the president of America wherever they go and the president has the sole authority to launch a nuclear strike, being the commander in chief of the armed forces. A duplicate of it is carried by the vice president for an emergency situation in case something happens to the president.
Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor and nuclear weapons expert, said that he was not startled to see the “nuclear football” being rushed to safety but the fact that “the man who possessed sole authority to launch American nukes at the time incited this mob”.
The briefcase, said to contain an emergency broadcast system to allow the president to communicate any order, is handed over to a new president by their predecessor on inauguration day.
Mr Trump had the full custody of the “nuclear football” until 20 January, much before he was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting the 6 January violence at the Capitol.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies