The hunt is on in Washington for the author of an anonymous New York Times op-ed who claimed to be part of a “resistance” inside the Trump administration, as Cabinet officials and even Vice President Mike Pence felt compelled Thursday to declare they didn’t do it.
White House aides were trying to root out the culprit but the most furious searching and wildest speculation was by Washington journalists.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back against the media frenzy.
“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” she tweeted. “Stop. If you want to know who this gutless loser is, call the opinion desk of the failing NYT.”
Mrs. Sanders included the main phone number for the newspaper.
The Time’s described the author as a senior administration official, a title that could apply to hundreds of people scattered across scores of agencies in Washington.
In the op-ed, the official claimed to be part of a cabal inside the administration that is working to protect the country from Mr. Trump’s impulsive and erratic behavior.
“The dilemma — which [the president] 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,” wrote the official.
The writer described a chaotic White House under Mr. Trump, where meetings “veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
Nearly every Cabinet member issued a statement or told reporters that they didn’t pen the op-ed.
Some of Mr. Trump’s inner circle also denied it when asked by reporters, including top adviser Kellyanne Conway and White House Counsel Don McGahn.
Mr. Pence was among those calling on the author to resign.
“Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who has provided extraordinary leadership, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable thing and they ought to resign,” he told reports.
He said the American people would see through the smear tactic.
The unflattering depiction in the op-ed mirrored criticisms from Mr. Trump’s political foes going back to the 2016 presidential race.
The op-ed also continued a pattern of leaks and betrayals from within the administration that have contributed to several unflattering exposes, including Michael Wolfe’s “Fire and Fury” and Bob Woodward’s “Fear” that describes the Trump White House as “crazy town.”
Only this time it was an administration official speaking out directly, although anonymously.
Mr. Trump fumed about the anonymous attack on his character.
“Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” he tweeted.
In an interview with Fox News Thursday night, Mr. Trump said the author was likely a “low-level” or “deep state” person.
“Virtually you know it’s treason,” he said.
The legal bar for the crime of treason, which is a capital offense, is pretty high. But the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code of Law describe treason as levying war on the U.S. or aiding the country’s enemies.
Richard W. Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, said the author wasn’t committing treason.
“Definitely not treason, not even close It is just criticism of the president,” said Mr. Painter, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump.
He said the infighting and backbiting wasn’t unusually in any administration, although usually not in public.
“This also has happened in other administrations but not to the extent it has happened here because there has previously been a lot more confidence in the president on the part of his staff. And for good reason,” he said.
First Lady Melania Trump issued a rare statement to blast the author and the news media for spewing anonymous attacks.
“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,” she said.
She said the press should be fair, unabashed 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, and accusations can lead to severe consequences,” said Mrs. Trump.
* Dave Boyer contributed to this report.