Trump administration officials race to deny writing anonymous New York Times op-ed

  • Trump administration officials from across the federal government are racing to deny they were the anonymous author of an explosive New York Times editorial.
  • For a president who has repeatedly shown that he values personal loyalty above all else, the idea of a mole inside his administration appears to confirm some of Trump's worst fears.
  • Yet Washington, D.C., has a long tradition of emphatic denials that later turn out to have been completely false.
President Donald Trump disparages the New York Times as he speaks following a meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House in Washington, September 5, 2018.
Leah Millis | Reuters
President Donald Trump disparages the New York Times as he speaks following a meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House in Washington, September 5, 2018.

As the Trump White House reeled on Thursday in the wake of The New York Times' publication of what has been dubbed the "resistance op-ed," Trump administration officials from across the federal government raced to issue denials and condemnations, insisting they were not the anonymous author, and lambasting the Times for publishing the piece.

The nearly 1,000-word column, published Wednesday afternoon, described a secret crusade by officials inside the Trump administration to "thwart parts of [the president's] agenda and his worst inclinations."

The surprise column ran one day after explosive excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward's upcoming book about the Trump administration, and not surprisingly, it launched a furious round of finger-pointing in Washington on Wednesday evening.

For a president who has repeatedly shown that he values personal loyalty above all else, the idea of a mole inside Donald Trump's own administration, working against him, seemed to confirm some of Trump's worst fears of a conspiracy at the highest levels of Washington's power structure, determined to undermine his presidency.

Little wonder, then, that Trump's political appointees spent Thursday morning practically tripping over one another in their rush to deny they were the anonymous author of the column. By early afternoon, the public denials numbered nearly two dozen, according to NBC News.

As more and more denials landed in reporters' inboxes from far-flung corners of the government, the more difficult it became to tell which were genuine, and the less it seemed to matter to the bigger picture of the state of Trump's presidency.

Washington, D.C., has a long tradition of emphatic denials that later turn out to have been completely false. This episode could easily turn out to have been yet another one.

Recall former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who insisted in the spring of 2011 that he had not sent explicit photos of himself to a woman over Twitter. That was a lie, and Weiner was forced to resign from Congress soon after. Seven years later, Weiner is currently serving time in federal prison for sending explicit material to a minor.

Even the greatest anonymous source of all time denied it for more than 30 years. Former senior FBI official Mark Felt, who was the "Deep Throat" source for Woodward and Carl Bernstein's explosive reporting on then-President Richard Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal. That reporting eventually led to Nixon's resignation from office in 1974. Felt, however, did not admit helping the journalists until 2005, 31 years after Nixon left office.

Below is a running list of formal denials from Trump administration officials, based on statements released to major news outlets and posted publicly.

Vice President Mike Pence: "The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds," said Pence's spokesman, Jarrod Agen, on Twitter. "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,"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Speaking to reporters during a trip to India, Pompeo said the op-ed was "not mine." He called the author a "disgruntled deceptive bad actor" who should quit rather than "undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do."

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: "Speculation that the New York Times op-ed was written by me or my principal deputy is patently false. We did not," Coats said in a statement, referring to his top aide, Sue Gordon.

White House counsel Don McGahn: Asked on Capitol Hill whether he wrote the piece, McGahn, who is leaving the White House later this fall, said simply, "No!"

First lady Melania Trump: The first lady was not among the top candidates who might have authored the piece, so her statement Thursday, from her typically quiet press office, was unexpected: In it, the first lady said, "To the writer of the oped - you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions."

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: "Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men and women of DHS and protecting the homeland - not writing anonymous and false opinion pieces for the New York Times," said Tyler Houlton, press secretary for DHS.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis: "It was not his op-ed," said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson, to reporters traveling overseas with Mattis.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie: "Neither Secretary Wilkie nor anyone else at VA wrote the op-ed," said Wilkie's spokesman,

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross: "I did not write and am thoroughly appalled by this op-ed. I couldn't be prouder of our work at Commerce and of @POTUS" he tweeted.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin: "It is laughable to think this could come from the Secretary," said Tony Sayegh, a spokesman for Treasury, in a tweet.

The list of potential authors, or at least potential agencies they might have come from, was narrowed by the fact that the op-ed seemed to focus on national security, it mentioned the author's admiration for the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and it referenced the very early days of the Trump administration.

Other officials who seemed much less likely to have authored the op-ed, or even to have known who did, also took pains to deny authorship, either in person or through their spokespeople on Thursday.

They included Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, CIA Director Gina Haspel, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

This story will be updated with new statements as they come in.

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