Searing Trump op-ed sets off wild guessing game on author

President Donald Trump responds to a reporters question during an event with sheriffs in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — An opinion piece in The New York Times by an anonymous senior administration official claiming to be part of a “resistance” working “from within” to thwart President Donald Trump’s “worst inclinations” set off a wild guessing game inside and outside the White House on the author’s identity.

Swift denials of involvement in the op-ed came today from top administration officials, including the office of Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump himself was furious, tweeting early this morning that “The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do.”

On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted a demand that if “the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on the “coward” who wrote the piece to “do the right thing and resign.”

White House officials did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate on Trump’s call for the writer to be turned over to the government or the unsupported national security ground of his demand.

To some, the ultimatum appeared to play into the very concerns about the president’s impulses raised by the essay’s author. Trump has demanded that aides identify the leaker, according to two people familiar with the matter, though it was not yet clear how they might go about doing so. The two were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a “House of Cards”-style plot twist in an already over-the-top administration, Trump allies and political insiders scrambled to unmask the writer.

The author, claiming to be part of the “resistance” to Trump “working diligently from within” his administration, said, “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.”

“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the author continued. “We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”

Trump raged about the piece in the White House, calling around to confidants to vent about the disloyalty of the author and fuming that the so-called “Deep State” within the federal government had conspired against him, according to a person familiar with the president’s views but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The text of the op-ed was pulled apart for clues: The writer is identified as an “administration official”; does that mean a person who works outside the White House? The references to Russia and the late Sen. John McCain — do they suggest someone working in national security? Does the writing style sound like someone who worked at a think tank? In a tweet, the Times used the pronoun “he” to refer to the writer; does that rule out all women?

The newspaper later said the tweet referring to “he” had been “drafted by someone who is not aware of the author’s identity, including the gender, so the use of ‘he’ was an error.”

The Beltway guessing game seeped into the White House, as current and former staffers alike traded calls and texts trying to figure out who could have written the piece, some turning to reporters and asking them for clues. And some of the most senior members of the Trump administration were forced to deny they were the author of the attack on their boss.

Hotly debated on Twitter was the author’s use of the word “lodestar,” which pops up frequently in speeches by Pence. Could the anonymous figure be someone in Pence’s orbit? Others argued that the word “lodestar” could have been included to throw people off.