Trump officials in uproar over anonymous ‘New York Times’ piece

Leading figures deny they are the author of article denouncing president’s leadership

US president Donald Trump has denounced as "gutless" an editorial in the New York Times, claimed to be authored by an anonymous source in The White House. Video: The White House

 

Trump administration officials have scrambled to distance themselves from an anonymous article in the New York Times which claimed that senior White House officials are working “from within” to frustrate part of president Donald Trump’s agenda.

Vice-president Mike Pence vigorously denied he was the author of the piece, which contained damning allegations about the president and was said to have been written by a member of the Trump administration.

“The anonymous editorial . . . in the New York Times represents a new low in American journalism,” he said during a visit to Florida.

“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, they ought to do the honourable thing and they ought to resign.”

As speculation about the identity of the anonymous author grew, suspicion fell on the vice-president, due to the use of the unusual word “lodestar” in the article. The word, which means “one who leads or guides”, has previously been used by Mr Pence.

The opinion piece describes Mr Trump’s leadership as “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” and says that, in the early days of his presidency, there were moves to remove the president by invoking the rarely-used 25th Amendment to the constitution.  

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo also said that he was not the author. “It’s not mine,” he told reporters while travelling in India, referring to the article. “I come from a place where if you’re not in a position to execute the commander’s intent, you have a singular option, that is to leave.”

Similarly, Mr Trump’s director of national intelligence Dan Coats said speculation that the article was written by him or his deputy was “patently false”.

Defence secretary Jim Mattis, homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and budget director Mick Mulvaney also issued written statements saying that they were not the writer.

The New York Times said it had decided to take the unusual step of publishing an opinion piece anonymously as it was “the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers”.

The author’s identity is known by the opinion editor and “a very small number” of people in the New York Times, but not by the newspaper’s reporters who cover the White House, the newspaper said.

Intervention by first lady

In an unusual move, first lady Melania Trump weighed in on the controversy, issuing a statement denouncing the use of “anonymous sources” by newspapers.

“To the writer of the op-ed – you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions,” she said.

Mr Trump also lashed out at the article, which appeared online on Wednesday afternoon and was carried in the print edition of the New York Times on Thursday.

At an event in the White House on Wednesday evening he chastised the newspaper. “If I weren’t here, I believe the New York Times probably wouldn’t even exist,” he said, claiming that the anonymous source within the administration is probably someone “who’s failing and [is] probably here for all the wrong reasons”.

The president also addressed the issue on Twitter. “Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” He subsequently tweeted “treason” in capital letters, in an apparent reference to the unnamed official.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a link to a phone number for the New York Times “for those of you asking for the identity of the anonymous coward”.

Controversy over the article emerged a day after the Washington Post published explosive allegations from a forthcoming book written by veteran journalist Bob Woodward about the Trump White House.