The Trump administration was rocked by the publication of an anonymous New York Times op-ed that claimed key administration officials were secretly working against President Donald Trump. The article infuriated Trump -- “TREASON?” he asked in a tweet -- and set off speculation in Washington about the author. Many of the president’s most senior advisers rushed to issue denials. Here are the latest developments, updated throughout the day:
Trump Says Times Op-Ed ‘Virtually’ Treason (9:53 p.m.)
Trump said the New York Times came close to committing treason by publishing the op-ed.
“The Times should have never done it because really what they have done is virtually, you know, it’s treason,” Trump told Fox News in an interview conducted on-stage Thursday evening before a rally in Billings, Montana.
The interview is scheduled to be broadcast on Fox & Friends Friday morning.
He acknowledged members of his Cabinet who had publicly denied writing the op-ed -- “you have so many people in the Cabinet, as you know, they came forward they are writing editorials” -- and called the White House “a well-oiled machine.”
And he complained that he couldn’t discredit the anonymous author.
“I don’t mind when they write a book and they make lies because it gets discredited, and we just discredited the last one we discredited,” he said, apparently referring to a forthcoming book by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward. “We discredited lots of them because its lies. When someone writes and you can’t discredit because you have no idea who they are, usually you will find it is a background level staff, it may not be a Republican it might not be a conservative, it may be a deep state person. You don’t know where -- it is a very unfair thing, it is very unfair to our country.”
Most Trump Cabinet Members Deny Writing Op-Ed (5:31 p.m.)
Most of Trump’s cabinet members and several top White House officials had joined Vice President Mike Pence in issuing public denials of authoring the op-ed by late Thursday afternoon.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney all denied they had written the article.
So did U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency said Director Gina Haspel also denied authorship. Even the Small Business Administration’s Linda McMahon tweeted out a denial, and Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said through a spokeswoman he wasn’t the author.
An unidentified Justice Department spokesman was quoted by CNN saying Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied authorship, though Sessions’s spokeswoman declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg. CNN also reported denials from Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. White House Counsel Don McGahn told CBS News the op-ed wasn’t his doing.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, traveling in American Samoa, praised Trump in a tweet as a leader who would “charge up a hill under fire, not cower in a fox hole,” adding, “Whoever this author is should be embarrassed at both their dishonesty and their cowardice.”
Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said through a spokesman that he “supports President Trump 100%” and “believes whoever wrote the op-ed should resign.”
And a spokeswoman for the FBI said the agency’s director, Christopher Wray, didn’t write the op-ed.
Pence Says Op-ed Writer Should Resign (1:56 p.m.)
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in Orlando, Florida, that “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.”
More of Trump’s Cabinet members issued statements denying they were involved with the controversial op-ed: Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, National Security Agency director Paul Nakasone and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler.
First Lady Says Writer is Sabotaging Country (12:37 p.m.)
First lady Melania Trump released a statement addressing the writer directly, saying “you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.”
She bemoaned the use of unidentified sources in news reporting. “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 first lady said in the statement.
Sanders Tells Media to Call NYT Over Op-Ed (11:57 a.m.)
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a statement saying the New York Times was “the only one complicit in this deceitful act” and urging the media to contact the outlet’s opinion desk directly by phone to inquire “who this gutless loser is.”
For those of you asking for the identity of the anonymous coward: pic.twitter.com/RpWYPHa6To
Mnuchin, Mattis, Nielsen Deny They Wrote It (11:20 a.m.)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s press secretary tweeted that it’s ludicrous to think his boss was responsible.
“@stevenmnuchin1 is honored to serve @POTUS & the American people. 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,” Tony Sayegh said.
.@stevenmnuchin1 is honored to serve @POTUS & the American people. 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.
“It was not his op-ed,” Dana White, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Delhi.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen 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,” press secretary Tyler Houlton said in a statement.
Raphael Williams, a spokesman for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, said simply: “The Secretary didn’t write the op-ed.”
DNI Chief Coats Says He Didn’t Write It (10:23 a.m.)
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats rejected suggestions that he was the unnamed official responsible for writing the Times article.
“Speculation that The New York Times op-ed was written by me or my Principal Deputy is patently false. We did not,” Coats, who took the post overseeing the U.S. intelligence community in March 2017, said in a statement from his office Thursday.
Coats, a 75-year-old former Republican senator and ambassador, made a rare public break with Trump in July when he publicly criticized the president’s decision to meet one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. “I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role, that’s not my job,” he told a forum in Colorado that month.
Pence, Pompeo Join Trump in Assailing Article
Mike Pence’s office said the vice president wasn’t the author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed and lashed out at the newspaper for publishing the piece. “The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s communications director said 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.”
Asked by a reporter in Delhi about the op-ed, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said it “shouldn’t surprise anyone that the New York Times, a liberal newspaper that has attacked this administration relentlessly, chose to print such a piece” and that if it actually came from a senior administration official “ they should not well have chosen to take a disgruntled deceptive bad actor’s word for anything and put it in their newspaper. ”
Pompeo’s spokeswoman started to turn to another question, but the secretary interjected: “I’ll answer your other question directly because I know someone will say, ‘Gosh, he didn’t answer the question.’ It’s not mine.”
What to Watch
Trump is scheduled to travel Thursday afternoon to Montana for campaign events and may comment further on the matter during his public appearances. It’s the first overnight swing of what aides have described as an aggressive schedule of at least 40 days of campaign travel between the beginning of August and November.
Here’s What Happened
The New York Times published an op-ed Wednesday by an anonymous U.S. official, said that he or she, and others in government, have vowed to thwart the president’s “more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
“The root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” wrote the person, identified by the Times only as a senior administration . “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”
In response, Trump attacked the New York Times in over the article’s publication, questioning whether the author even existed and citing national security as a reason for the newspaper to disclose the person’s name.
“If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday night. The following day, he blamed the so-called deep state and his political opponents, saying they are “going crazy.”
“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy - & they don’t know what to do,” he said in tweet early Thursday. “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”
--With assistance from Justin Sink, Tony Capaccio and Jennifer Epstein.
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