A massively circulated anonymous New York Times op-ed depicted a crisis situation within the corridors of President Trump’s administration. “I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” reads the subhead of the piece, which ostensibly sought to reassure the public that well-intentioned people such as the author had the public’s back.
Those sentiments landed on a hot public griddle, courtesy of famous presidential chronicler Bob Woodward. Just the day before the op-ed hit the Internet, previews of “Fear,” Woodward’s new book about the Trump White House, examined much the same dynamic as the op-ed. “A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead,” wrote Philip Rucker and Bob Costa of The Post.
Thematic overlap notwithstanding, Woodward isn’t drawing comfort and corroboration from the New York Times op-ed. In an interview with David Martin of CBS that aired on Sunday, Woodward addresses the anonymity of the writer and the integrity of the piece:
When asked if he knows the author’s identity, Woodward said, “I have no idea who it is. It’s very important, who it is. It’s very important whether this is somebody who witnessed and participated. And quite frankly, if there was a person in the White House or the administration who wanted to tell me what’s in that op-ed piece, I would say, ‘Okay, name me who was there. What is the specific incident?’ As you know, from having read my book, the dates and times and participants [are documented].”
He said that without that detail on the op-ed author’s story, “I wouldn’t have used it.”
“Too vague?” asked Martin.
“Well, too vague, and does not meet the standards of trying to describe specific incidents. Specific incidents are the building blocks of journalism, as you well know.”
Right — specific incidents, like the one in “Fear” where former economic aide chief economic adviser Gary Cohn steals a document from Trump’s desk, the better to prevent something unfortunate from happening. The document would have withdrawn the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. “Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing,” reads The Post’s summary of Woodward’s findings.
What’s the analog in the New York Times op-ed? Here you go: “It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t,” writes Anonymop-ed.
An even more critical passage comes here:
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.
Had some senior administration official told Woodward about these whispers, he likely would have responded, Okay, what do you mean by whispers? Emails? Meetings? Serious hallway discussions? A joke here and there?
After the op-ed was first published, the Erik Wemple Blog asked the New York Times if it had firmed up this allegation about the 25th Amendment chatter. We didn’t receive a response; we’ve resubmitted the inquiry in light of Woodward’s comments and will update the post if we hear back from the New York Times.
The Sunday shows surfaced top-level denials from Trump officials. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, for instance, told Chuck Todd of NBC News that chatter about the 25th Amendment was “such nonsense.” Vice President Pence told CBS News that he was “never” part of any such discussions. “Why would we be?” he countered.
Oh, we can count only about 4,229 reasons.