White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a U.S. military aide, members of the Secret Service and Chinese officials got into a physical scuffle over the so-called "nuclear football" in November, said a Sunday evening report from Axios.com.
Five sources told Axios' Jonathan Swan that on Nov. 9, as a delegation of U.S. officials including Kelly and President Donald Trump attempted to enter Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
As the entourage crossed the threshold into the Great Hall, Chinese guards stopped the military aide tasked with carrying a briefcase containing the materials necessary for the president to authorize a nuclear strike, the so-called "nuclear football." This aide is to remain close to the president at all times.
Axios said that when the aide was stopped, Kelly -- who had already entered the hall -- rushed to where the aide was being detained and ordered all U.S. personnel to continue into the Great Hall and disregard Chinese instructions. The Americans began to move forward.
A "commotion" ensued, Swan said, in which a Chinese security official lunged at Kelly and grabbed him, which Kelly responded to by shoving the man's hands away. A Secret Service officer then tackled the Chinese official and wrestled him to the ground.
The whole confrontation was over in a matter of moments, but the question remains as to how it happened. White House officials assured Swan that they did all the necessary advance work to coordinate with Chinese officials.
But, Swan wrote, "somebody at the Chinese end either didn't get the memo or decided to mess with the Americans anyway."
At no point, said U.S. officials, was the nuclear football in the hands of the Chinese government nor did anyone touch the briefcase. The head of the Chinese security team reportedly apologized to the U.S. delegation within minutes.
Trump came under fire early in his administration for his reportedly cavalier attitude toward the nuclear football. A guest at Mar-a-Lago posed for a selfie next to the officer carrying the case and posted it online last year.