Trump seeks to assert command after New York Times ‘resistance’ essay

Furious US president calls article by ‘senior official’ in his administration ‘gutless’

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

 

US president Donald Trump is seeking to assert command of his administration amid reports of a “quiet resistance” among some of his own advisers who have secretly and deliberately tried to thwart from the inside what one official called his “reckless decisions.”

The surreal struggle between Mr Trump and at least some members of his own team has characterised his tenure from the beginning, but it spilled into public view this week in a way that raised questions about the president’s capacity to govern and the responsibilities and duties of the people who work for him.

An op-ed article by an unnamed Trump administration official published by the New York Times on Wednesday claimed that “unsung heroes” on his team were “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Vice-president Mike Pence and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo both denied that they had written the article.

“It’s not mine,” Mr Pompeo told reporters during a trip to New Delhi, India. “If it’s accurate . . . they should not well have chosen to take a disgruntled, deceptive, bad actor’s word for anything and put it in their newspaper.” A spokesman for Mr Pence’s office also criticised the Times and said Mr Pence does not write anonymous opinion columns. “The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds. The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts,” Mr Pence’s spokesman Jarrod Agen said on Twitter.

The op-ed came a day after reports about a new book, Fear, by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, revealed efforts by aides to surreptitiously block the president when they believe he may be acting dangerously.

The collective portrayal suggested that Mr Trump may not be fully in charge of his own White House, surrounded by advisers who consider him so volatile and temperamental that they swipe documents from his desk in hopes of stopping him from issuing rash orders. While his rivals called such efforts heroic and patriotic, his supporters complained of a virtual coup at odds with the Constitution and the will of the people.

Mr Trump erupted in anger after reading the op-ed article, and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and other aides scurried in and out of the press office trying to figure out how to respond. Advisers told Mr Trump that this was the same as leakers who talk with the news media every day, but a hunt for the author of the offending article was quickly initiated and scrutiny focused on a half-dozen names. Aides said they assumed it was written by someone who worked in the administration but not the White House itself, although they could not be sure.

‘Treason?’

Mr Trump angrily lashed out during public events and on Twitter. He assailed what he called the “gutless editorial” by the unnamed official and he dismissed Mr Woodward’s book as “a total piece of fiction” and “totally discredited.” He attributed the accounts to a news media that has sought to destroy his presidency.

“They don’t like Donald Trump and I don’t like them because they’re very dishonest people,” the president said during a meeting with sheriffs. Mr Trump later posted a message on Twitter that said simply, “TREASON?” and then another saying that “If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”

The unnamed official, whose identity is known to the New York Times editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House, described the president’s leadership as “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” and cited “adults in the room” who strive to prevent disaster. At one point, the official wrote, there was talk of the cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to declare Mr Trump unable to discharge his duties, but no one wanted a constitutional crisis.

“We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” the official wrote. “But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”

“That is why 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 official added.

Criticism from White House

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, issued a statement criticising the anonymous official. “The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected president of the United States, ” she said. “He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.”

Ms Sanders said the newspaper acted irresponsibly. “We are disappointed, but not surprised, that the paper chose to publish this pathetic, reckless and selfish op-ed,” she said. “This is a new low for the so-called paper of record, and it should issue an apology.”

Eileen Murphy, a New York Times spokeswoman, responded, “We are incredibly proud to have published this piece, which adds significant value to the public’s understanding of what is going on in the Trump administration from someone who is in a position to know.”

The op-ed pages of the New York Times are managed separately from the news department. The op-ed editors wrote that they took the rare step of publishing a piece without naming the author because of the significance of the subject. “We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers,” they wrote.

There is a long history of people in the White House taking it upon themselves to curb what they saw as a president’s dangerous instincts or compensate for his incapacity. When Woodrow Wilson fell ill late in his presidency, his wife, Edith, effectively made many decisions in his name. When Ronald Reagan seemed increasingly foggy toward the end of his tenure, some aides discussed invoking the 25th Amendment.

During the final days of Richard M Nixon’s presidency, when he was depressed, drinking and railing against his fate as the Watergate scandal closed in on him, defense secretary James Schlesinger instructed the military not to carry out any nuclear launch order from the president without checking with him or secretary of state Henry Kissinger. – New York Times/Reuters