Trump fumes over NYT op-ed as top officials deny writing it

Pushing back against explosive reports his own administration is conspiring against him, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out against the anonymous official who claimed in the New York Times to be part of a "resistance" working "from within" to thwart his most dangerous impulses.

Anonymous 'senior administration official' sounds alarm about U.S. president's 'amorality'

U.S. President Donald Trump disparages the New York Times as he speaks following a meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House on Wednesday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Pushing back against explosive reports his own administration is conspiring against him, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out against the anonymous senior official who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, claiming to be part of a "resistance" working "from within" to thwart the commander-in-chief's most dangerous impulses.

Washington was consumed by a wild guessing game as to the identity of the author, and swift denials of involvement in the op-ed came Thursday from top administration officials, including the office of Vice-President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump himself was furious, tweeting Thursday morning:

On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted a demand that if "the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!" White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on the "coward" who wrote the piece to "do the right thing and resign."

White House officials did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate on Trump's call for the writer to be turned over to the government or the unsupported national security ground of his demand.

To some, the ultimatum appeared to play into the very concerns about the president's impulses raised by the essay's author. Trump has demanded that aides identify the leaker, according to two people familiar with the matter, though it was not yet clear how they might go about doing so. The two were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A House of Cards-style plot twist in an already over-the-top administration, Trump allies and political insiders scrambled to unmask the writer.

The authorship question lingered Thursday, even as many senior officials were quick to distances themselves from the piece.

What are senior administration officials saying about the op-ed?

Vice-President Mike Pence: The vice-president called the op-ed "disgraceful" and said anyone who would write an anonymous editorial "smearing" the president should resign.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Pompeo, on a working visit to India, denied writing the anonymous opinion piece, saying, "It's not mine." He accused the media of trying to undermine the Trump administration and said he found that "incredibly disturbing."

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: Coats issued a statement saying the speculation that he or his deputy are "patently false. We did not."

Defence Secretary James Mattis: According to a Reuters report, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said Mattis didn't write the piece.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Sessions himself hasn't made a public statement about the op-ed, but a CNN report says a Justice Department official told their team the attorney general isn't the author.

White House counsel Don McGahn: Speaking outside the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, McGahn denied he was the author.

They aren't the only top officials denying any link to the piece. Many top officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry,  Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said they aren't the anonymous author. Many lower profile administration officials also issued denials.

The author — claiming to be part of the "resistance" to Trump, "working diligently from within" his administration — says "many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

"It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room," the author continued. "We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't."

The text of the op-ed was pulled apart for clues: The writer is identified as an "administration official" — does that mean a person who works outside the White House? The references to Russia and the late Sen. John McCain — do they suggest someone working in national security? Does the writing style sound like someone who worked at a think tank?

In a tweet, the Times used the pronoun "he" to refer to the writer; does that rule out all women?

The newspaper later said that tweet had been "drafted by someone who is not aware of the author's identity, including the gender, so the use of 'he' was an error."

Hotly debated on Twitter was the author's use of the word "lodestar," which pops up frequently in speeches by Vice-President Mike Pence. Could the anonymous figure be someone in Pence's orbit? Others argued that the word "lodestar" could have been included to throw people off.

Trump blasts newspaper over op-ed

5 years ago
Duration 1:41
U.S. President Donald Trump criticizes The New York Times for publishing an anonymous editorial purportedly by a member of his administration.

Trump, appearing at an unrelated event Wednesday at the White House, lashed out at the Times for publishing the op-ed.

"They don't like Donald Trump and I don't like them," he said of the newspaper. The op-ed pages of the newspaper are managed separately from its news department.

Demand for writer to resign

In a blistering statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the author of choosing to "deceive" the president by remaining in the administration.

"He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people," she said. "The coward should do the right thing and resign."

Sanders also called on the Times to "issue an apology" for publishing the piece, calling it "pathetic, reckless and selfish."

Use of the word 'lodestar' in the article — a term often used by Mike Pence — has fuelled speculation that the author could be close to the U.S. vice-president. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The anonymous author wrote in the Times that where Trump has had successes, they have come "despite — not because of — the president's leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective."

The assertions in the column were largely in line with complaints about Trump's behaviour that have repeatedly been raised by various administration officials, often speaking on condition of anonymity. And they were published a day after the release of details from an explosive new book by longtime journalist Bob Woodward that laid bare concerns among the highest echelon of Trump aides about the president's judgment.

The writer says Trump aides are aware of the president's faults and "we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't."

The writer also alleges "there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment" because of the "instability" witnessed in the president. That amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows for the transfer of power to the vice-president if the president is deemed "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

"This isn't the work of the so-called deep state. It's the work of the steady state," the writer adds.