Donald Trump's top lieutenants forced to deny they wrote explosive insider account
Donald Trump has lashed out at an opinion piece written by an anonymous senior official within his administration, who claimed to be part of a "resistance" seeking to curtail the president's "worst inclinations".
The explosive column in the New York Times rocked the White House on Wednesday, reportedly triggering a frantic hunt for its author.
According to the “senior administration official”, whose opinion piece was called "gutless" by Mr Trump, members of the president's cabinet were so worried by his erratic, impulsive behaviour they discussed using extreme constitutional measures to remove him from power.
The 25th amendment is designed to be used in the case of an incapacitated commander-in-chief. However, the article claims that senior figures considered deploying it to oust the president.
“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,” writes the anonymous author. “But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”
Instead a cabal of senior figures is now working to thwart the president’s more “misguided impulses” or “worst inclinations”, claims the writer, whose article is headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”.
Mr Trump dismissed the article as the product of someone who was probably failing in their job.
“He’s part of the resistance. This is what we have to deal with,” he told reporters at the White House.
Mr Trump added: "Anonymous. Can you believe it? Anonymous. Meaning gutless. A gutless editorial."
The President later issued a one-word tweet reading: "TREASON?", before demanding the New York Times turn over the author "for national security purposes".
Sarah Sanders, White House spokeswoman, branded the piece "pathetic, reckless, and selfish" and condemned the Times for publishing it.
"Nearly 62 million people voted for President Donald J. Trump in 2016," said Sanders. "None of them voted for a gutless, anonymous source to the failing New York Times."
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
The White House is now reportedly trying to hunt down the author of the article.
The phrase, “The sleeper cells have awoken,” circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s like the horror movies when everyone realises the call is coming from inside the house,” one former White House official in close contact with former co-workers told the newspaper.
One current official told the Post: “The problem for the president is it could be so many people. You can’t rule it down to one person. Everyone is trying, but it’s impossible.”
The claims follow revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, that officials have snatched papers from the president’s desk to prevent him signing off on what they believe to be dangerous proposals.
It also corroborates earlier accounts of a chaotic White House, where decision-making follows erratic impulses.
Jim Mattis, the defence secretary, reportedly told associates that the president had the understanding of a “fifth or sixth-grader”.
Both men denied having said any such thing and a string of other figures lined up to offer their own denials.
But the broader account of a White House careening towards what Mr Woodward described as a “nervous breakdown” chimes with previous accounts of an administration in crisis.
And the New York Times opinion piece will add to a sense of unprecedented turmoil at the heart of American democracy, where officials fear anything could happen next.
The writer says the trouble stems from the president’s “amorality” and a leadership style that is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective”.
“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,” he or she writes.
They go on to describe a two-track system of government, in which Mr Trump shows preference for autocrats and dictators – such as Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un – while other departments follow more conventional policy.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the piece continues. “We fully recognise what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
Although many White House players have been cast as villains, privately they are working for the good of the country, it continues. Not because they are part of a liberal “deep state” but because they are part of the “steady state”.
The account chimes with anecdotes in Mr Woodward's book. He describes how Gary Cohn, the former White House chief economics adviser, reportedly boasted to colleagues of removing worrying documents - withdrawing the US from an important trade deal with South Korea, for example - from Mr Trump's desk before he could sign them.
The latest leaked account will heap further pressure on Mr Trump. Insiders say he is furious at Mr Woodward’s book and the barbs directed his way by senior aides.
The White House was forced once again into a defensive crouch amid reports officials had struggled to get hold of a copy hours after news broke of its contents.
“Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost,” wrote Mr Trump on Twitter. “Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”
The arrival of Mr Woodward's book, due for publication next Tuesday, had been anticipated for weeks and he followed his own, familiar timetable in releasing its contents to The Washington Post in advance.
Still, the administration appeared caught off guard.
Philip Rucker, Washington Post's White House bureau chief, said the denials so far focused on only a tiny number of specific incidents.
“They are not litigating very many details of the reporting and there’s a feeling inside that the president is really upset about this - verging on paranoia - that he’s very bothered about what’s been said about him to Woodward,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Rich Galen, a veteran Republican strategist, said the contents may not have that sort of impact but could profoundly affect November’s midterm elections.
“It’s not so much an issue of impeachment but, if the book has legs this close to the midterms, what it may do is suppress the vote of people who might otherwise shrug and say they’ll vote for the Republican because that’s what they always do,” he said.
“They might just stay home and that’s exceedingly dangerous for Republicans.”