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Tao WU via Flickr CC

Despite Trump's tweets this week indicating he has a so-called "Nuclear Button" that's "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim Jong-un's are nothing more than flourish. There's not a real "nuclear button" Trump can press — that's just a metaphor for the framework that's used to ultimately launch a nuclear weapon.

The bottom line: There's a "nuclear briefcase," a "black book" and a "biscuit."

What you need to know about that framework and the "national command authority," which can authorize a nuclear weapons launch.

  • The "nuclear briefcase": Trump always has an aide nearby who has been trained on procedures for carrying out nuclear attacks and who carries a briefcase or two, known as the proverbial "nuclear briefcase."
  • The "black book" menu of attacks: Inside the nuclear briefcase is a list of attack target countries and target types the President can carry out, all listed out on a menu that looks a lot like a cartoon. There are three kinds of attack targets: nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, military-industrial facilities, or leaders and hideouts.
  • The President's ID "biscuit": He doesn't actually carry around launch codes in the nuclear briefcase, but he does carry around an identification card colloquially known as "the biscuit." He uses this code to authenticate his identity as the President to the military commanders in the Pentagon war room before he communicates which attacks he wants to launch.

And that request is then translated into an "emergency action message" in the war room, which, in a matter of minutes, would unleash the President's nuclear weapons request.

Editor's note: This piece was originally published April, 2017.

Go deeper

Resurrecting Martin Luther King's office

King points to Selma, Alabama on a map at his Southern Christian Leadership Conference office in Atlanta in January 1965. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Contributor

Efforts to save the office where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., planned some of the most important moments of the civil rights movement are hitting roadblocks amid a political stalemate.

Why it matters: The U.S. Park Service needs to OK agreements so a developer restoring the historic Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Atlanta — which once housed King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference — can tap into private funding and begin work.

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.