Article detailing insider attempts to thwart president triggers search for anonymous author
White House launches manhunt as Donald Trump seethes
Donald Trump’s fury was on full display on Thursday as the White House hunted for the author of an explosive newspaper article claiming administration officials were running interference efforts to protect the nation — and the world — from the president himself.
The article by a "senior official in the Trump administration", published anonymously in the New York Times, claimed cabinet ministers even considered triggering constitutional provisions to remove the commander-in-chief from office.
The president demanded the author be handed over and issued a one-word tweet: “Treason?”
Two senior figures, Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, and Mike Pence, vice president, were the first to deny involvement on Thursday. The Pentagon later said Defence Secretary James Mattis was not the author either.
The article could not have come at a more embarrassing time. It surfaced a day after a new book by respected journalist Bob Woodward added to perceptions of a White House spiralling out of control, where aides are contemptuous of the president and his ability to do the job.
The result is a new low even by the warped yardstick of an administration that has been mired in crisis almost since day one.
In response, Mr Trump turned on his favourite targets, denouncing the New York Times as “failing” and claiming he was the victim of vested interests in Washington.
“I’m draining the Swamp, and the Swamp is trying to fight back,” he said on Twitter. “Don’t worry, we will win!”
He also demanded the official be named.
“If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once,” he wrote.
The president reacted to the article with a “volcanic” display of anger, according to insiders quoted in media reports.
“There’s a sense that we just don’t know what he will do next,” one former official told The National.
The Washington Post reported that aides and outside allies swapped text messages saying “the sleeper cells have awoken” as they began the search for the person responsible for the article. They cancelled meetings and telephoned journalists for clues to the writer’s identity.
Sources speculated that the writer may be a member of the administration who works outside the White House — possibly in the national security apparatus, because of the article’s references to Russia, or at the Justice Department, which has frequently been the target of the president’s wrath.
The article goes beyond existing suspicions of a “deep state” of career civil servants and security officials trying to undermine the president’s agenda. Instead it details how even his appointees have become concerned about his “amorality" and an “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” leadership style.
“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,” the author writes. “But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”
The 25th Amendment sets out provisions for the succession if a president is incapacitated by illness or an accident, or is removed from office by impeachment. It would be an unprecedented step to deploy it to oust a president because of concerns about his performance.
Instead, the author said, officials were working to thwart Mr Trump’s more “misguided impulses” or “worst inclinations”.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the piece says. “We fully recognise what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
The claims chime with anecdotes revealed by Woodward in his new book, Fear: Trump in the White House. He describes how Gary Cohn, former White House chief economic adviser, boasted to colleagues of removing the documents from Mr Trump’s desk before the president could sign plans to withdraw from an important trade deal with South Korea.
And Mr Mattis, the defence secretary, reportedly ignored a presidential order to assassinate Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, after a gas attack last year. Instead he drew up plans for limited air strikes.
Meanwhile, the anonymous text set off a guessing game in Washington.
Mr Pompeo told reporters during a trip to India that he was not the author. “It's not mine,” the secretary of state said, before accusing the media of trying to undermine the Trump administration.
One online sleuth wondered whether the use of the word “lodestar” offered a clue. The word occurs frequently in speeches by Mr Pence, although the vice president's reputation for quiet loyalty makes him an unlikely candidate.
His office was forced to offer a denial, saying Mr Pence always put his name on his op-ed pieces.
“The New York Times should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed,” said his spokesman.
Meanwhile, offshore bookmaker MyBookie was offering 1/3 on “the field”, suggesting the most likely source was a lesser known name beyond its list of cabinet members and well-known figures such as Mr Pompeo, Justice Secretary Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, or even Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
Whoever was behind the article now faces the wrath of a White House who described its author as “pathetic” and a “selfish coward”.
Sarah Sanders, Mr Trump’s spokeswoman, said: “The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States.
“He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people.”