Senior administration officials scrambled on Thursday to take their names off the list of suspects in the national guessing game over the authorship of a scathing New York Times op-ed that depicted President Trump as a danger to the nation who is being kept in check by aides.
The Times described the anonymous author as “a senior official in the Trump administration.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued statements on Thursday denying that they or their senior staff members were behind the op-ed.
“The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s communications director, tweeted. “The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts.”
Speaking to reporters in Orlando, Pence called for the author’s resignation.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Pence said. “The anonymous editorial published in the New York Times represents a new low in American journalism. And I think the New York Times should be ashamed. And I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed.”
He added: “Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who’s provided extraordinary leadership for this country, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable thing and resign.”
“It’s not mine,” Pompeo told reporters in New Delhi, slamming the newspaper for choosing to publish the opinions of a “disgruntled, deceptive bad actor.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also volunteered that the essay wasn’t his doing.
“Speculation that The New York Times op-ed was written by me or my Principal Deputy is patently false,” Coats said in a statement. “We did not. From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire [Intelligence Community] remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best intelligence possible.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney issued similar statements through their representatives.
“Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men & women of DHS and protecting the homeland — not writing anonymous & false opinion pieces for the New York Times,” said Tyler Houlton, Nielsen’s press secretary. “These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary & the Department’s mission.”
“Steven Mnuchin is honored to serve @POTUS & the American people,” said Tony Sayegh Jr., Mnuchin’s spokesman. “He feels it was irresponsible for @nytimes to print this anonymous piece. Now, dignified public servants are forced to deny being the source. It is laughable to think this could come from the Secretary.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also denied she was the anonymous author.
“No,” Haley said when asked by reporters before a meeting with the U.N. Security Council.
Outgoing White House counsel Don McGahn said the same when asked by reporters Thursday afternoon.
“I am not the author of the New York Times OpEd, nor do I agree with its characterizations,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry tweeted. “Hiding behind anonymity and smearing the President of the United States does not make you an ‘unsung hero,’ it makes you a coward, unworthy of serving this Nation.”
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross tweeted a denial, too.
“I did not write and am thoroughly appalled by this op-ed,” he wrote. “I couldn’t be prouder of our work at Commerce and of @POTUS.”
Other top officials issuing public denials included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
The op-ed described members of the White House staff working together to “thwart” Trump’s “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless” impulses.
“The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the author of the piece wrote. The essay appears to back up the central claim in Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” that members of the president’s staff are secretly undercutting him for the good of the country.
The writer also suggested that early in Trump’s tenure, Cabinet members considered invoking the 25th Amendment to begin the process of removing the president, but decided to “do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”
Shortly after the op-ed was published on Wednesday afternoon, Trump lashed out at the paper, the op-ed and its unnamed author.
“We have somebody in what I call the failing New York Times talking about he’s part of the resistance within the Trump administration,” Trump said during a White House event honoring U.S. sheriffs. “This is what we have to deal with.”
Trump then described the editorial as “gutless,” and said the paper “wouldn’t even exist” if he weren’t generating so much news as president.
He continued to fume on Twitter Wednesday evening.
“TREASON?” the president tweeted.
“Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source?” he continued. “If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”
The paper said it decided to publish the op-ed anonymously “at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement on Twitter urging those seeking the identity of the author to call the newspaper — despite reports that Trump’s top aides had already launched their own hunt for the author.
“The media’s wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump,” Sanders said. “Stop. If you want to know who this gutless loser is, call the opinion desk of the failing NYT at 212-556-1234, and ask them. They are the only ones complicit in this deceitful act. We stand united together and fully support out President Donald J. Trump.”
First Lady Melania Trump also weighed in, releasing a lengthy statement chastising the person behind the blind editorial.
“Freedom of speech is an important pillar of our nation’s founding principles and a free press is important to our democracy,” she said. “The press should be unbiased and responsible. Unidentified sources have become the majority of the voices people hear about in today’s news. People with no names are writing our nation’s history.”
“Words are important,” she continued, “and accusations can lead to severe consequences. If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves. The writer of the oped — you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.”
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