Washington loves a “Whodunnit.” And we now have a humdinger. Someone high in the White House has written an OpEd about the Administration for the New York Times. The Times editorial board confirm that it’s a White House official, but has agreed not to disclose his or her identity. Donald Trump, of course, will pull out all stops to find the “culprit.” But reporters will also work to find the person. That’s because this was not a “source” who must be protected but rather an “author” of the piece.
That being the case, we will likely soon know the person’s identity. The next question is, why? Why would a person set himself or herself up for inevitable unmasking? One answer is that such people quickly find lucrative book deals. But also look at the timing. One of the most respected names in journalism, Robert Woodward, is about to release a bombshell book about the Trump White House. It’s entirely possible that the person knows he or she will be featured prominently in the book, and this may have been a chance to grab the limelight before Woodward’s book hits the bookstands.
But cynical people may find a different answer. While the Times may believe this came from a high White House official, what if the purported author can prove he or she didn’t write it? It wouldn’t be the first time a newspaper was played a fool. And the purpose would be to change the subject from Woodward’s book to the fact that the Times was fooled. And that might also taint Woodward’s book. After all, if the Times editorial board could be fooled, might not Woodward, too?
We’ve had cases like this before. Most notably during the Bush 43 administration. George W. Bush had sent us to war in Iraq, even though his own “military” record was fuzzy, at best, including obvious military avoidance. Reports of Bush’s shoddy record were fed to CBS’ Dan Rather, who ran with it. In short order, Bush’s secretary threw doubt on a key piece of evidence. That turned the story away from the message, to the messenger, and Rather eventually had to leave the network, since the fed material could not be verified.
Also in the Bush administration, and in the same vein, Democrats were trying to portray Bush as a “chicken hawk,” who “didn’t serve the country, but sent our boys to die.” Democrats nominated John Kerry, who had the weird combination of being a war hero and a war protester. In a series of ads, Republicans shed doubt on Kerry’s heroism as a swift boat pilot, with his detractors called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” Suddenly, instead of questioning Bush’s lack of service and possible dissertiom, the conversation changed. Yes, Kerry was a hero, but was he really that big a hero?
In today’s case, if the Times was, in fact, duped, won’t that be a bigger story than–as everyone knows–the Trump White House is somewhere between unorthodox and bizarre?
Here are excerpts of the Times OpEd:
I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration. . .
The dilemma — which he [Trump] does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
. . . many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. . .
In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic. . .
Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. . .
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals. . .
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 bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
Some have suggested that the “high official” might be Mike Pence, since the tract elsewhere uses one of his favorite words, referring to the late Senator John McCain as a “lodestar.” However, others say that it is typical for sources to use another person’s pet words to throw investigators off the trail.
Trump was, of course, quick to fight back—even without knowing whom he was rebutting.
Trump quickly lashed out on Wednesday, dismissing the op-ed as “really a disgrace” and “gutless” and assailing the author and The New York Times for publishing the anonymous opinion piece.
“We have somebody in what I call the failing New York Times that’s talking about he’s part of the resistance inside the Trump administration,” Trump said. “This is what we have to deal with. And you know the dishonest media … But it’s really a disgrace.”. . .
“Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source?” Trump tweeted. “If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”
The OpEd stunned White House officials.
The op-ed amplified the sense of paranoia inside the West Wing and resurrected the feeling that the White House is under assault from within, multiple sources told CNN.
Trump administration officials, struggling to mount a defense to Woodward’s tell-all book, were stunned when the op-ed was published Wednesday afternoon, left guessing and quietly pointing fingers at other officials as they tried to figure out who wrote it, even texting reporters possible guesses.
The day had begun with Trump’s people scouring the White House to try to find who had spoken with Woodward. And, ironically, that, along with the OpEd provided backing for Woodward’s portrayal of the paranoia and back-biting in the Trump White House. At the same time, the OpEd tried to reassure the public that they were in good hands.
It’s both a confirmation of the portrait of the President painted by Woodward and reporters covering the Trump administration as well as an attempt at reassurance.
“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,” the official writes. “This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.”
Trump’s anger rose during the day, with Business Insider reporting that Trump is calling the OpEd “treason.” Lindsay Graham disagrees.
President Donald Trump suggested that a bombshell New York Times op-ed criticizing his presidency amounts to treason.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of Trump’s close allies, was commenting on the op-ed during a CNN interview when the president’s tweet came out.
Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services committee, had an immediate response.
“This is not treason under the Constitution. This is not a treasonous act against the nation,” Graham said. “This is a disloyal and cowardly act against the president.”
The printing of the OpEd, which will be followed by the devastating book by Woodward, will be difficult for Trump to refute. However, as we noted, if the OpEd is a sham, the entire episode will disappear in a circular firing squad of media–which are even more critical of themselves than anyone else, when something goes wrong.