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GOP Senator to Trump: Are You 'Recanting Oath' to Protect the First Amendment?

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) hit out at President Trump on Wednesday evening for comments earlier in the day in which the president lashed out at unfavorable media and suggested exerting licensing control over such outlets.

In an exclusive, NBC reported Wednesday that Trump said during a July 20 national security meeting (the one after which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a "moron") he wanted a sharp increase -- amounting to tenfold -- in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

"Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve," said the report.

"According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned."

Trump tweeted in response: "Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a 'tenfold' increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!"

"With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!" he added.

That quickly drew a rebuke from a coalition of press freedom organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Press, Media Law Resource Center, PEN America and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "When coming from the leader of the free world, words matter. And if the First Amendment means anything, it’s that the government can’t censor news because it’s critical of the government," they said in a joint statement. "The president should be working to uphold the values of the First Amendment, not tearing them down."

They stressed that the Federal Communications Commission "is charged with making sure that broadcasters serve the public interest," but "this independent agency does not and cannot make such judgments either on the basis of political viewpoint or at the president's whim."

Added CPJ's North America program coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck: "Heavily censored countries such as Azerbaijan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey license news outlets according to whether their leaders agree with their coverage. Donald Trump's assertion that NBC's license could be challenged not only puts him in unfavorable company but emboldens other governments to embrace authoritarian tendencies."

Before a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Trump called it "frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write -- and people should look into it."