Top Trump officials deny writing NYT op-ed

High-ranking officials in the Trump administration are publicly denying that they authored an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times. CNN's Alex Marquardt has more.

Posted: Sep 7, 2018 2:26 PM
Updated: Sep 7, 2018 2:51 PM

Lodestar. Senior administration official. The 25th Amendment.

These terms, and others, have been thrust into the public discourse by The New York Times' publication of an explosive opinion piece from an anonymous senior Trump administration official. The op-ed has roiled Washington while threatening to further undermine the President and his chaotic White House.

To better understand this remarkable political moment, we identified seven major terms and phrases from the op-ed and its aftermath. Here's what they mean and why they're so relevant.

Senior administration official

The anonymous author is identified only as a "senior official in the Trump administration." But what exactly does that mean?

As CNN's Brian Stelter points out, many officials can be considered senior in the Trump administration, even if they don't work directly with the president.

CNN's Chris Cillizza says the description used by the Times is broad enough to include virtually anyone in the Trump White House, a Cabinet official, undersecretary or someone on, say, the National Security Council.

On the NYT podcast The Daily, op-ed page editor Jim Dao declined to define the "senior" phrase further.

"All I can say is I feel that we followed a definition that has been used by our newsroom in the past," he said.

Op-ed

Op-ed is technically an abbreviation of "opposite" and "editorial" because such columns traditionally appear opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. But in general, op-ed is shorthand for opinion columns, commentaries or other authored features.

The NYT piece from the anonymous senior administration official was defined in an editor's note as an "anonymous Op-Ed essay." Because of that, Merriam-Webster said "op-ed" was one of its top word searches Wednesday in the wake of its publication.

Lodestar

The term refers to a star in the night sky that provides guidance, such as the North Star. The distinctive word appears near the end of the Times' op-ed in discussing the moral leadership of the late Sen. John McCain.

"We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue," the anonymous author writes.

Sleuths have honed in on the rarely used word as a possible clue to the author's identity. For example, Panoply Media's Dan Bloom pointed out in a Twitter thread that Vice President Mike Pence has used "lodestar" a number of times in speeches.

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

Deep state

The "deep state" is a political phrase that President Trump and his allies have used to describe what they see as an entrenched government bureaucracy that is quietly but actively working to undermine the president.

In the New York Times op-ed, the author wrote that "unsung heroes" in and around the White House have held Trump's worst inclinations in check. For example, although Trump had expressed frustration that the US imposed sanctions on Russia, the national security team knew such actions had to be done, the author wrote.

"This isn't the work of the so-called deep state. It's the work of the steady state," the author wrote.

But former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, speaking on CNN's "New Day," rejected the author's "deep state" denial.

"So, if there is a movement, which this individual claims there is and I haven't seen it, that is what the deep state is," Lewandowski said. "That is the government employees -- some of them, who have their own agenda and not the agenda of the 60 million people that voted for Donald Trump to be the President of the United States."

25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment lays out rules surrounding presidential succession in case of a president's death or disability. The amendment was adopted in 1967 in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Section 4 of the amendment lays out what happens if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet members believe the president "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Essentially, following a deliberative process, the president is forced from office and the vice president becomes president.

The author of the NYT op-ed said that members of the Cabinet whispered about using the amendment against Trump, though nothing came to pass.

"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 wrote.

But invoking the 25th amendment in Trump's case would require a Cabinet mutiny, and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon has called the odds of that happening "incredibly long."

Constitutional crisis

The anonymous author wrote the 25th Amendment was ultimately not invoked because "no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis."

A constitutional crisis refers to a situation in which "there was a genuine concern that one branch of the government was not acting constitutionally and no checks seem to be operating on that branch," Jennifer Chacón, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law, told CNN last year.

Still, the phrase has no textbook or legal definition. In fact, legal scholars Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin argued in 2009 that Americans have lowered the bar too far, and that what people call a "crisis" is just normal political conflict.

Even so, the term has been used fairly often in the Trump era, including by former Secretary of State John Kerry on CNN Wednesday night.

"This is a genuine constitutional crisis," Kerry said.

Treason

The term refers to an act of betrayal against one's country.

Committing treason in the US is a federal crime, defined by the Constitution as waging war against the US or aiding its enemies.

President Trump invoked the word in an all-caps tweet after the publication of the anonymous op-ed.

His one-word "TREASON?" tweet was "like a wounded king's furious wail," CNN's Stephen Collinson wrote.

Nobody has been convicted of treason in the US in more than 60 years.

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