Pretty much everyone has a theory about who wrote that bombshell anonymous New York Times op-ed. We know from the Times only that it was a “senior administration official” — a broad label that could include scores of White House or executive branch aides. Top Trump officials have publicly denied they were behind it, though such denials should be considered carefully given their enraged boss and a precedent for them from administration officials (see: “Deep Throat” Mark Felt).

The Fix and The Post’s graphics department surveyed the landscape of intrigue and the full range of denials offered. We sorted some officials into loose groups based on likelihood of authorship and theories offered in public spaces.

The groups: Rumor mill favorites, National security types, Conservative and establishment figures and We wouldn’t have seen this coming

A few names have popped up frequently among internet sleuths, amateur linguists, and the punditocracy.

Why it could be Why it’s probably not
Kellyanne Conway

Counselor to the president

Kellyanne Conway

Counselor to the president

Why it could be Her husband is a chief Trump critic, and some think he's really speaking for both of them. She hasn't been as vocal in Trump's defense recently as she was in the early days of the administration. Why it’s probably not She has staked her reputation to Trump more than just about anybody.
Jon Huntsman

Ambassador to Russia

Jon Huntsman

Ambassador to Russia

Why it could be Very much from the establishment wing, with a brand that is very un-Trump. Has to deal with Trump's Russia shenanigans as much as anyone. Some have made comparisons between his style and speech patterns and those of the author. Why it’s probably not Could run for president (again) and alienating Trump's base wouldn't help. That said, those folks might not vote for such a moderate anyway. Even though he's not a Cabinet-level official he issued a statement (which some say was not an absolute denial).
Jared Kushner

Senior adviser to the president

Jared Kushner

Senior adviser to the president

Why it could be A Democrat before his father-in-law's campaign who has tried along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, to craft a reputation as a moderating influence on the president. Trump family dynamics are always ripe for speculation. Why it’s probably not He's family. Also not thought to be particularly tied in with other aides.
Kirstjen Nielsen

Homeland security secretary

Kirstjen Nielsen

Homeland security secretary

Why it could be "Don't get me wrong" is a phrase that appears early in the op-ed and is one she has used in speeches. Reports have circulated that Trump berated her in Cabinet meetings, including over his proposed border wall. Her willingness to tolerate his animosity would make sense given the motives the author described. Why it’s probably not Has made pains to get back in Trump's good graces, including publicly casting doubt on Russian interference at multiple junctures. Would someone so willing to damage her own brand for Trump write this op-ed?
Mike Pence

Vice president

Mike Pence

Vice president

Why it could be Internet sleuths pegged Pence early because of his penchant for using the word "lodestar," which appears in the column. He's also a political veteran who has been viewed as establishment Washington's link to the non-traditional Trump administration. Why it’s probably not Has a shot at being the next presidential contender after Trump, and then a chance to become president. Why rock the boat when all that appears intact? Denied it was him and, through a spokesman, said the author should be "ashamed."
Melania Trump

First lady

Melania Trump

First lady

Why it could be Has made several moves or issued statements that publicly conflicted with, undercut or seemingly trolled her husband (think the infamous "I don't really care" jacket). Stories related to his alleged affairs have dominated the news this year. Why it’s probably not The first lady's office issued a sharp statement from her but not a denial — a move in keeping with her often vague and mysterious public persona. But the op-ed described policy and national security concerns, and Melania's main beefs with her husband would likely be domestic. It's also unclear if the Times would consider her a senior administration official.

National security types

The leaders of the national security apparatus are a natural target for suspicion. Trump himself has pointed the finger at them, and he’s been a vocal public critic of the intelligence community. The author emphasized the “resistance” inside the administration on foreign policy (i.e. Russia).

Why it could be Why it’s probably not
John Bolton

National security adviser

John Bolton

National security adviser

Why it could be Bolton’s title and job responsibilities, combined with the national security concerns raised in the piece, mean he has to be considered. Why it’s probably not Trump’s pick to replace H.R. McMaster (who would have been high on the list of suspects were he still in the administration), he's a fairly recent addition to the staff and not one who has reportedly fallen out of favor with the president.
Daniel Coats

Director of national intelligence

Daniel Coats

Director of national intelligence

Why it could be He's the top intelligence official in the country, overseeing what many Trump supporters deride as the "deep state." He was very publicly not on the same page with the president earlier this summer, when he was caught off guard during a live interview about Trump's invitation to Vladimir Putin to visit the United States. Why it’s probably not Other than at that event in Aspen, he hasn't publicly criticized Trump.
Gina Haspel

Central Intelligence Agency director

Gina Haspel

Central Intelligence Agency director

Why it could be Over 30 years, she rose through the ranks to be the first woman to lead the agency and has shown deep commitment to its officers, particularly those in the clandestine service. Why it’s probably not Trump elevated her relatively recently, and she's never exhibited a real desire to stand up to him. Her press secretary issued a one-word denial: "No!"
John F. Kelly

White House chief of staff

John F. Kelly

White House chief of staff

Why it could be Trump has made his life consistently difficult, to say the least, and multiple reports (including from Bob Woodward's new book) quote him deriding Trump and saying he hates his job. Also a military man who would definitely be in a position to keep Trump in check and would be aware of such efforts. Why it’s probably not Like Mattis, he's likely to follow the military chain of command. He is staying through 2020, which would make the timing of this suspect.
Jim Mattis

Defense secretary

Jim Mattis

Defense secretary

Why it could be A few reported incidents in Woodward's forthcoming book, including one in which he compares Trump to a "fifth or sixth grader," meant Mattis and Trump's relationship was already under the microscope. Why it’s probably not Has avoided even implicit criticism of Trump. As a military man, would likely balk at publicly undercutting commander in chief, given chain of command, etc.
Mike Pompeo

State department secretary

Mike Pompeo

State department secretary

Why it could be Has served as the head of two agencies that Trump has at times been critical of and are deeply intertwined with Trump’s foreign policy, an arena that seemed to be of deep concern to the author. Why it’s probably not Seen as loyal to Trump, who in turn is said to like him very much and was eager to make him secretary of State based on his performance as CIA director.
Christopher A. Wray

FBI director

Christopher A. Wray

FBI director

Why it could be Trump has frequently lambasted Wray's agency as biased and corrupt on matters related to the investigation into his campaign. "I'm a low-key, understated guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of. I'll just leave it at that," Wray told NBC's Lester Holt in July. Why it’s probably not Wray was Trump's choice to replace James B. Comey, and the animosity Trump feels toward the FBI has rarely been publicly or personally directed at Wray.

The conservative and establishment faction

Trump came to Washington promising to disrupt the establishment. Several of its members have landed in his administration, but they’ve been viewed suspiciously by Trump loyalists.

Why it could be Why it’s probably not
Elaine Chao

Transportation secretary

Elaine Chao

Transportation secretary

Why it could be The writer assured readers that there are "adults in the room," and Chao, who has a long record serving in Washington, would fit that bill. Why it’s probably not Chao isn't known to have clashed with Trump. Her office issued a statement denying she was the author.
Nikki Haley

Ambassador to the United Nations

Nikki Haley

Ambassador to the United Nations

Why it could be No administration figure has carved out such independence from Trump, and she's been rewarded with perhaps the best approval numbers in the adminstration. Was an early critic of Trump and has consistently pushed for sterner policy on Russia. Why it’s probably not Works mostly in New York City and is not as privvy to day-to-day machinations. This would also be a big gamble for someone with future presidential ambitions, and many think Haley is a future GOP contender for that office. Published an op-ed in The Post explaining that she challenges the president directly and thinks the writer should have done the same thing.
Kevin Hassett

Council of Economic Advisers chairman

Kevin Hassett

Council of Economic Advisers chairman

Why it could be His name has been bandied about among movement conservatives because he adheres to the values of "free minds, free markets and free people" in the piece. And because of his affiliation with the late Sen. John McCain, who was lauded in the piece. Why it’s probably not Has denied it is him, and his former colleague at the National Review published a post insisting it could not be.
Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce

Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce

Why it could be Not particularly loyal to president and is possibly alarmed at Trump's flip-flops on economic principles that create the uncertainty that destablizes big business. Trump reportedly derides him for being sleepy. The day before the anonymous op-ed published, Bob Woodward reported Trump once told Ross, "I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime.” Why it’s probably not Doesn't seem to have the appetite (or energy) for rocking the boat.
Donald McGahn

White House counsel

Donald McGahn

White House counsel

Why it could be Short-timer (Trump announced McGahn is leaving in the fall). Has clashed with Trump, especially over the president's efforts to fire Mueller. Why it’s probably not Why on Earth would he risk being outed during Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which is his chief policy outcome as a White House adviser?
Mick Mulvaney

White House budget director

Mick Mulvaney

White House budget director

Why it could be Holds classic conservative values (or did, until he foreswore being a budget hawk in his current capacity). Why it’s probably not Is ambitious and rising within the Trump adminstration. Has been rumored as a potential chief of staff or for other top jobs.
Jeff Sessions

Attorney general

Jeff Sessions

Attorney general

Why it could be A favorite whipping boy of Trump over the Russia probe and subject of much speculation he'll be fired, he's issued sharp rebukes of the president. "While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations," Sessions said on Aug. 23. Why it’s probably not One of Trump's earliest endorsers and has been firmly behind many of his most controversial decisions.

We certainly wouldn’t see these coming

Officials scrambled to publicly deny they were the author, even the ones whom practically no one would suspect. The rationale for them being the author would be such a stretch, we have left that blank. The author couldn’t possibly be any of these people. Could it?

Why it could be Why it’s probably not
Ben Carson

Housing and urban development secretary

Ben Carson

Housing and urban development secretary

Why it could be Why it’s probably not He hasn't clashed with Trump since joining the administration, and his spokesman flatly denied it was him.
Betsy DeVos

Education secretary

Betsy DeVos

Education secretary

Why it could be Why it’s probably not Has no known policy differences with Trump and in many ways is in his mold as a public servant. Took a shot at Washington in her denial.
Larry Kudlow

National Economic Council director

Larry Kudlow

National Economic Council director

Why it could be Why it’s probably not Newcomer. Hard to believe he'd rock the boat so quickly. His pre-administration statements show he clearly disagrees with Trump's trade philosophy, but he's toed the company line since joining the White House.
Steven Mnuchin

Treasury secretary

Steven Mnuchin

Treasury secretary

Why it could be Why it’s probably not Called it irresponsible of the Times to print the piece. Though clearly unhappy with Trump's trade war, which he personally has to deal with, he hasn't shown a lot of desire or willingness to disagree with Trump publicly.
Sonny Perdue

Agriculture secretary

Sonny Perdue

Agriculture secretary

Why it could be Why it’s probably not Among a handful of Cabinet secretaries that basically no one would suspect. He denied it anyway.
Rick Perry

Energy secretary

Rick Perry

Energy secretary

Why it could be Why it’s probably not Hasn't been reported to be antagonistic to the president, he flatly denied he wrote it, and ... we're sure there was another reason.

Ann Gerhart contributed to this report.

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Trump photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News.

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