The White House hunt for the internal ‘Resistance’
White House officials this week frantically sought to uncover the identity of the anonymous administration official behind an explosive op-ed in The New York Times describing a secret “Resistance” of senior officials working internally to rein in President Trump. The author, identified only as a senior administration official, describes Trump as “erratic,” “ill-informed,” “petty,” “impulsive,” and “detrimental to the health of our republic,” without morals or principles. “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 unnamed official wrote. “There are adults in the room…trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
Trump reacted with fury, blasting the author as an “anonymous, gutless coward” and calling on the Justice Department to launch an investigation as a matter of “national security.” So far, more than 25 administration officials have publicly denied writing the op-ed, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Many of them echoed Trump’s attacks on the author, with the president reportedly keeping close tabs on which officials stepped forward to issue denials and denounce the op-ed.
White House officials publicly ruled out Sen. Rand Paul’s suggestion that they administer polygraph tests, but continued to hunt for the author at Trump’s insistence. Officials reportedly narrowed the list of suspects down to fewer than half a dozen people. In an interview with ABC News, Donald Trump Jr. said his father’s circle of trust is shrinking. “It’s a much smaller group than I would like it to be,” he said.
What the editorials said
This is a “constitutional crisis,” said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The op-ed claims that President Trump is so manifestly unfit for office that there were “whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment,” which allows for the replacement of an incapacitated president. The op-ed’s publication dovetails with this week’s release of journalist Bob Woodward’s book Fear, which depicts White House staffers “literally snatching documents” from Trump’s desk and ignoring his demands for war plans against Syria and North Korea, to prevent him from destructive and dangerous acts. We know “more than enough to launch a serious congressional inquiry into whether the president is mentally incapacitated.”
This is “nothing less than a coup,” said The Washington Times. If the op-ed writer is to be believed, an unelected cabal of White House advisers is working to undermine “the agenda that Mr. Trump promised to accomplish if he were elected.” The honorable and democratic thing to do would have been to resign and explain why. “The United States is not a banana republic.” Honestly, none of this is that shocking, said the Chicago Tribune. We’ve had enough behind-the-scenes reports to know that White House staffers are constantly trying “to keep the country from running off the rails.” This feels more like a “CYA memo.” When the administration finally falls apart, this official wants to be able to say, “See? I told ya I tried to save the country.”
What the columnists said
“The obvious suspect” is Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said William Saletan in Slate.com. A moderate Republican, he was never a true Trumpist, and the op-ed’s prose closely matches Huntsman’s stated public views and verbal quirks. For example, the phrase “Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” matches a letter that Huntsman wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune in July defending his decision to serve in the administration. He also is fond of the unusual words “malign,” “moorings,” and “impetuous,” and of the slogan “Country first,” all of which show up in the letter.
It doesn’t matter who wrote the op-ed, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. “The president, we are repeatedly told by people close to him, is nonfunctioning, irrational, and unfit to such a degree that he’s not fulfilling his job in a meaningful way.” Congressional committees should summon senior administration officials to testify to the president’s fitness on the record.
Anonymous has done the anti-Trump resistance no favors, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. This stunt will just make the president more paranoid and isolated, and play into the narrative among his supporters that he’s being stabbed in the back by the Deep State. “Few things could be better calculated to bring out Trump’s worst instincts.” Anonymous, in fact, is more “enabler” than resistance, said Adam Serwer in TheAtlantic.com. Like the rest of the GOP, the author hails accomplishments like tax cuts and increased military spending to justify covering for a dangerous demagogue. At no point does the anonymous official describe trying to stop the administration’s most egregious abuses, such as family separation, the travel ban, and the botched hurricane response in Puerto Rico. “The hands that enabled this will never be clean. Dishing to Woodward, or the Times, will not change that.”
The New York Times’ gambit in publishing the op-ed could backfire “if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person,” said David Bauder in the Associated Press. There are approximately 700 “senior” positions in government that require Senate confirmation. “This person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Don’t expect the Justice Department to ferret out the author’s identity, said Natasha Bertrand in TheAtlantic.com. Bad-mouthing the boss may be a fireable offense. But the writer didn’t commit an “obvious crime” that would justify opening an investigation. “There is no classified information here and no felony,” said John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the CIA. “This is instead a problem of discipline and management in the White House.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Newscom (2), Getty ■