I’d like to believe it was all about literary merit. But anonymity gave “Primary Colors” a mystical power I hadn’t imagined. I’d held back my name partly as a goof, an homage to pseudonymous 19th-century serial novels. Benjamin Disraeli and Henry Adams, among others, had employed the conceit; “ Sense and Sensibility ” was written by “A Lady.” To my amazement, members of Clinton’s team began accusing one another of having written it.
Anonymity is very much in the news these days, although of a much different, and far more serious, sort. We have the anonymous whistleblower who exposed President Trump’s Ukraine gambit. And the anonymous staffer — or, perhaps, staffers — who wrote the op-ed about Trump in the New York Times last year and will soon publish a nonfiction book called “A Warning.”
In my case, it was fair game for the media to chase down the anonymous novelist. I had sort of asked for it. The current cases are far more complicated, morally and legally.
The Post recently reported that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are obsessed with learning — or perhaps, revealing — the identity of the White House whistleblower. That’s not only scurrilous; it is also highly improper. By law, government whistleblowers have a right to privacy. In this case, the whistleblower’s identity is now largely irrelevant, because his or her allegations have been confirmed by Foreign Service and White House professionals who have, courageously, come forward. There are two other factors at play: The whistleblower may be a covert officer in the intelligence community; revealing his or her identity might compromise national security. And finally, and sadly, the lives of the whistleblower and family might be in danger, given the level of crazy abroad in the land. In the end, outing the identity of this public servant only serves the interests of “deep state” conspiracy theorists, who will try to “prove” that the whistleblower is a Never Trumper.
The Trump administration insider who produced the New York Times op-ed in September 2018 represents a different challenge. A year ago, the anonymity seemed appropriate. It was intended as a public service. The author — who claimed to be a Trump partisan — was concerned about the president’s haphazard and uninformed style. The author obviously hoped the column would have a positive effect on the president’s behavior. It didn’t. And now the basic truth of the column has been reinforced by a landslide of similar reports and, especially, by Trump’s own crude and careless actions.
So, I wonder: Is anonymity still appropriate here? It might be. The author might have the same personal safety and national security concerns as the whistleblower. Or the smokescreen could have less noble provenance. For some months now, the guardrails have been off this presidency; most of the grownups — people such as Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn and John F. Kelly — have left the building. The initial purpose of the op-ed, to caution the president, and to warn the public, no longer applies. The publisher is touting “shocking” accounts of malfeasance, which will surely sell some books. But at this point, can anyone be surprised by anything? Doesn’t even a miscreant such as Trump have the right to know his accuser?
In recent weeks, we have witnessed a bracing parade of government officials — members of the diplomatic service, intelligence community and the uniformed military — willing to stand up, under oath, and give testimony about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. They have placed their careers, and perhaps their personal safety, at risk. That is what the anonymous author of “A Warning” should now do, too. We are past the point of being coy about the president’s malfeasance. It is time to stand and deliver.