President Trump surprised defense spending experts when he revealed plans for a defense budget cut during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. But beyond his cryptic comments, nobody seems to know or be willing to say whether the top-line figure for fiscal year 2020 represents a major cut to national defense or if it's closer to a rounding error.

"We know what the new budget is for the Defense Department; it will probably be $700 billion," Trump said at the White House. “So, it was 700, 716, that's a very substantial number, but it's defense, it's very important, to us without defense, maybe the rest of it doesn't mean very much."

That statement has left defense analysts scratching their heads because it appears to conflate two distinct numbers: the Defense Department's budget and the federal government’s total defense spending.

The confusion could mean a difference of tens of billions of dollars.

Trump at first appeared to be talking specifically about a Defense Department budget of $700 billion. That would exclude other defense spending priorities, such as the nuclear arsenal under the Department of Energy and law enforcement. That's often referred to as the overarching national defense budget.

The Pentagon had earlier projected its own budget for the coming year to be $701 billion, so the president’s estimate would be a slight $1 billion reduction. For a president who sometimes plays fast and loose with the numbers, it could have been a matter of simply dropping the 1 in public comments. In other words: no cut.

But the confusion came from the second two numbers Trump cited to compare his Defense Department budget estimate.

The $700 billion and the $716 billion figures he cited are not the amount spent on the Defense Department. Instead, they are the national defense numbers, which are significantly higher than the Defense Department’s budget and include spending beyond the Pentagon.

The administration had estimated $733 billion for the coming fiscal year. Trump’s budget estimate would cut $32 billion from that projection, or about 4.5 percent when inflation is factored, according to analysts.

So, which pot of money was Trump talking about setting at $700 billion?

The Pentagon referred questions Thursday to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which declined to comment on the budget figure.

“The president has been clear that he is serious about cutting spending, and that was the message he reiterated to his Cabinet yesterday,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

For now, analysts and the public are left to wonder.

Travis Sharp, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said he believes Trump was referring only to the Defense Department budget, because a $32 billion cut to $733 billion in overall defense spending would be so large.

“If that number was going to drop next year to $700 billion, plus the effects of inflation, that would be a big cut. I don’t have decisive evidence to prove this, but I just think there’s no way the administration would just offhandedly reveal that in that setting,” Sharp said. “That would have a significant impact.”

But the context of the announcement could also fuel speculation.

Trump made the comment while ordering his Cabinet to reduce spending by 5 percent in the coming year, what he called the “nickel plan.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was traveling and did not attend the meeting.

The tea leaves point toward the bigger 4.5 percent cut next year for overall defense spending, said Seamus Daniels, a program coordinator and research assistant for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I think looking at it in the context of cutting all federal spending across the board, I think he was saying the 5 percent was for all agencies. It sounds like he was kind of stepping back and saying, ‘OK, we are going to draw down the overall defense budget,’” Daniels said. “So, I think the references to $700 billion and $716 billion indicate that he was referring to the total national defense budget.”