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The New York Times on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of publishing an anonymous op-ed column from an author the paper identified only as "a senior official in the Trump administration."
Titled, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," the column describes how President Donald Trump is facing "a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader."
"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 goes on to claim that the Trump administration includes a group of political appointees who "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. "
"The root of the problem," the author writes, "is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."
In a statement, the White House accused the author of being a "coward" and called on the writer to resign.
"He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign," the statement said.
Trump frequently rails against the use of anonymous sources, most recently last week, when he tweeted. "When you see 'anonymous source,' stop reading the story, it is fiction!"
In explaining its decision, the Times wrote atop the column, "We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers."
One of the more striking passages in the column refers to the 25th Amendment, which provides a means by which a president who is incapable of fulfilling the duties of the presidency can be removed from office, and the vice president can assume the presidency.
"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over."
And while the op-ed is unlikely to change the opinion of Trump's biggest supporters, it could hardly have come at a more inopportune time for the White House.
Trump and his allies on Wednesday were still reeling from the publication on Tuesday of excerpts from Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward's forthcoming book, "Fear," which contains dozens of vignettes and quotes from current and former Trump officials that paint the president in a startlingly negative light.
Two of the highest ranking officials in Trump's government, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, were described in Woodward's book as having insulted Trump's intelligence on several occasions. The White House scrambled on Tuesday afternoon to issue denials from Mattis and Kelly, but on Wednesday, there was chatter in the West Wing that the book had placed Mattis' job in jeopardy.
The decision by a paper of record to publish an anonymous op-ed immediately sparked a firestorm among journalists, experts and senior media figures.
Some were unimpressed. Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, satirized the move in a tweet:
The Atlantic's David Frum wrote: "The author of the Times op-ed has explicitly told the president that those who offer such advice do not have the president's best interests at heart, and are, in fact, actively subverting his best interests as he understands them on behalf of ideas of their own."
"He'll grow more defiant, more reckless, more anti-constitutional, and more dangerous," Frum argued.
Mark Lotto, a former staff editor for the Times, emphasized the significance of the decision in a series of tweets. "You can like it or not, think it's good or bad, think it's mild or savage," Lotto said. "I'm just saying: The standards for anonymity on the Op-Ed page are beyond high—they're almost impossible to cross."