Trump slams damning New York Times op-ed as 'gutless'

An unnamed senior Trump administration official assailed President Donald Trump's "amorality" and reckless d...

Posted: Sep 6, 2018 2:08 PM
Updated: Sep 6, 2018 2:09 PM

An unnamed senior Trump administration official assailed President Donald Trump's "amorality" and reckless decision-making in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday and said he or she is part of a "resistance" working to thwart Trump's worst impulses.

"The dilemma -- which (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," the Times piece reads. "I would know. I am one of them."

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The Times said disclosing the name of the official, who is known to the publication, would jeopardize the official's job, and that publishing the piece anonymously was the only way to deliver an important perspective to readers. Major newspapers almost never publish unnamed op-ed pieces. At The New York Times, it is very rare, but not entirely unprecedented.

The op-ed came on the heels of reports based on a damning book about Trump's presidency by veteran journalist Bob Woodward and amplified the sense that top advisers to the President have serious concerns about his conduct in office and leadership abilities. And it is likely to compound Trump's sense of paranoia that he is surrounded by advisers who may be duplicitous and untrustworthy.

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."

He then pivoted to his accomplishments, claiming that "nobody has done what this administration has done in terms of getting things passed and getting things through."

Trump later tweeted a pointed and unsubstantiated attack on the Times, questioning if the author of the op-ed exists. If the author does exist, the organization should publicly identify the individual, Trump said.

"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!"

Corroboration for Woodward's book

The op-ed offers a firsthand account that corroborates key themes of Woodward's book: that some of the President's top advisers have a dim view of the commander in chief and are quietly working to thwart Trump's most reckless and impulsive decisions from becoming a reality.

The author writes the resistance inside the Trump administration is not the same "resistance" of the left against the President and said they and like-minded colleagues working to thwart some of Trump's actions "want the administration to succeed ... 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 result, the official writes, has been a "two-track presidency" in which Trump's own worldview -- uttered both in public and private -- diverges from some key actions taken by the administration, like those involving additional sanctions against Russia.

A dramatic alternative to the quiet effort to thwart some of Trump's more concerning actions was, however, considered, the official said: invoking the 25th Amendment.

The official alleges there were "early whispers within" Trump's Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would require a majority of Cabinet officials to declare to Congress they believe the President is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

Explaining the "resistance" effort, the senior administration official offers a damning portrait of Trump's character and leadership ability.

The author argues the "root of the problem is the President's amorality" and assails Trump's "reckless decisions," "erratic behavior" and what the official describes as the President's "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective" leadership style.

"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," the official writes. "Although he was elected as a Republican, the President shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people."

Trump officials react

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.

Speculation rose that it could be someone in the vice president's office given the op-ed's inclusion of the word "lodestar" and several speeches Mike Pence gave using the unusual term.

Pence's deputy chief of staff and communications director Jarrod Agen denied Thursday that Pence or anyone from their office authored the New York Times op-ed.

Some echoed the sentiment voiced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that the official should resign.

"The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States," she wrote in a statement. "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."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the Times for publishing the op-ed, saying "they should not well have chosen to take a disgruntled, deceptive, bad actor's word for anything and put it in their newspaper," and called it "sad" that the senior administration official made the choice to pen the op-ed.

"I come from a place where if you are not in a position to execute the commander's intent you have a singular option, it is to leave. And this person instead, according to The New York Times, chose not only to stay but to undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do," Pompeo told reporters while on an overseas trip in India.

Others called it as a bombshell -- noting how the author of the op-ed said multiple people in the administration felt the same way.

But the op-ed, compounded by Woodward's book sourced to numerous current and former White House officials, has left Trump world feeling under siege.

"I guess it's open warfare on Trump," one Trump ally said after the op-ed's publication.

The President started the day waging a witch hunt on who did -- and who didn't -- talk to Woodward. He was taking careful note of who had -- and hadn't -- issued statements of denial.

This witch hunt escalated dramatically -- and suddenly included the anonymous author of the New York Times essay, one administration official said, with the President intent on knowing who wrote the words he suggested could be treasonous.

A source close to the White House who's in touch with West Wing officials told CNN that aides are following leads based on the way the op-ed is written. The aides are looking at key words used in the editorial that stand out, the source said.

Extensive insights

The senior administration official's op-ed offered extensive insights into the unvarnished thoughts of a top official, but the op-ed was in keeping with reports throughout Trump's presidency. In those reports, numerous senior administration officials have described Trump's impulsive decision-making and the chaos that has often animated the President's inner circle.

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."

A Times spokeswoman said op-ed anonymity had been granted a handful of other times in the paper's history, most recently for a piece in June by an unnamed asylum seeker from El Salvador.

In this case, The Times said it granted anonymity "at the request of the author" because the person's job "would be jeopardized by its disclosure."

The newspaper also pointed out that its opinion editors know the person's identity, so he or she is anonymous to the public, but not to the Times.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jeff Zeleny, Jim Acosta, Brian Stelter, and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.

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