Trump says NYT should hand over its source, but that's preposterous

trump press photogs 09.05.18

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.


It's like the president is determined to prove them all right.

All the people saying he's incompetent, dangerous, prone to volcanic outbursts. All the people saying he's unfit for office. Wednesday's shocking op-ed by a "senior official" said more of the same. And Trump's reaction -- which was televised and tweeted for the world to see -- backed up the allegations against him.

First, Trump turned a photo op with sheriffs into a full-fledged live TV event, and he whipped out a piece of paper with stats about the successes of his admin. He raged about the leaker and attacked the NYT. "Can you believe it? Anonymous. Meaning gutless. A gutless editorial."

Then, on Twitter, he asked if it amounted to "TREASON?" (No.) He kept going, expressing doubt about whether the senior official was real. (Yes.) Then he made the preposterous assertion that The Times "must" for "national security reasons" turn the person in. Obviously that's not going to happen...

More and more parallels to Nixon

Douglas Brinkley said on "CNN Tonight" that Trump's behavior "smacks of Nixon." But he said it's unique: "There's nothing at all like this in American history."

--> David French tweeted: "I suspect part of the goal of the op-ed was to provoke a huge presidential reaction. He just might want America to see Trump (more) unleashed. He's playing with fire."

--> Consider: Of all the places this official could have gone... Of all the ways they could have blown the whistle... They did it through the newspaper Trump loves and hates the most...

He? Or she?

"It's a game of whodunit here in the West Wing, no doubt about it," Jeff Zeleny said on CNN -- both to find the op-ed writer and the sources for Bob Woodward's book.

Per the WSJ's Michael Bender, some W.H. aides called reporters "to ask who may be behind the op-ed -- whether it came from inside the White House or a cabinet-level agency." I sorta assume it's coming from the cabinet, due to this detail from the piece: There were "early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment," but "no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis..."

My interview with the NYT's op-ed editor

Jim Dao called me... reluctantly, I think... to answer a few questions about the op-ed. Here's the rundown:

-- Did the Times approach the source? No, the source approached the Times. "The person contacted me through an intermediary," Dao said.

-- When did this happen? Dao said "several days ago" and declined to be more specific.

-- Did Dao speak directly to the source? He said yes.

-- How does the Times define "senior?" Dao would not say.

-- Was the release the op-ed timed to coincide with the Woodward book? Dao said that as far as he knows, it's a "coincidence."

-- Was there a special effort to disguise the person's writing style, for example by rewriting the piece in some fashion? Dao said no.

-- What kind of editing was done? Just the usual, making the person's views "clearer" and adhering to style standards.

-- Who knows the identity of the senior official? "A very small number of people within the Times."

-- What's been done to protect the source? Dao said "we have taken a number of special precautions" but understandably didn't list them off. More here...

Here's some historical context

This is "unprecedented," insofar as a senior admin official writing a scathing unnamed op-ed about the boss has never happened before. But the NYT haspublished a few unnamed op-eds before. It's usually because the person fears for his or her safety.

Dao said he had published a couple other anonymous pieces during his tenure as op-ed editor, which began in early 2016. The most recent example was a piece in June by an unnamed asylum seeker from El Salvador...

--> Michael Barbaro will have more from Dao on The Daily podcast Thursday morning...

--> And I'll have more on CNN's "New Day" in the 7am hour...

Inside the NYT newsroom

The NYT's DC bureau and NYC bureau scrambled just like everyone else when the op-ed hit around 3:40pm. "The news and opinion departments function independent of one another, and editorial page editor James Bennet confirmed to me that he did not inform executive editor Dean Baquet about the column in advance, in order to respect the firewall," VF's Joe Pompeo reports.

There are some grumblings from the newsroom about Opinion's decision to do this. BuzzFeed's Steven Perlberg has details here...

On Page One of Thursday's paper...

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman share the byline on the story about the op-ed... The story notes that they don't know the identity of the official... and says "Trump erupted in anger after reading the Op-Ed." The headline: "Trump Seethes As a 'Resistance' Spills Into View."

View on the right: "This is a coup"

This exchange on "AC360" summed up much of the day's debate:

Gloria Borger: "The person who wrote this was trying to do a patriotic thing here," although the person shouldn't have stayed anonymous.

Trump booster Michael Caputo: "This is a plot against the president... I believe this is about the midterms... about setting the president up for impeachment."

Read more of Wednesday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

Trump opponent Paul Begala: "What we really ought to be talking about" is fitness. "Is the president fit to lead the greatest country on God's green earth?" Begala said no.

Caputo: "This is a coup."

"The sleeper cells have awoken"

From Thursday's WaPo: "The stark and anonymous warning was a breathtaking event without precedent in modern presidential history." And it came just one day after Woodward's findings began to dribble out. "Taken together, they landed like a thunder clap," the Post says, "portraying Trump as a danger to the country that elected him and feeding the president's paranoia about whom around him he can trust."

--> Per the Post, "the phrase 'The sleeper cells have awoken' circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies..."

--> CNN's John Avlon calls all of this "Operation Contain the President..."

More reactions

-- Rachel Maddow: "This feels like the end of something, and I don't know what happens next..."

-- John Kerry on "AC360:" "This is a genuine constitutional crisis..."

-- Zeke Miller tweeted: "An amazing thing about this op-ed is not that someone wrote it, but how many people in the administration plausibly could have written it."

-- An outside adviser said this to VF's Gabriel Sherman about the Woodward excerpts: "Everybody on the inside knows it's true. It's just Fox News people who don't want to admit how crazy he is..."

Trump is holding a rally on Thursday

He'll be speaking in Billings, Montana, on Thursday night around the time "Hannity" is on...

Sometimes the most damning evidence comes from Trump's own words

That's why I wanted to flag the upcoming rally. Here's another example: Trump's interview with The Daily Caller. The website helpfully released a complete transcript of Tuesday's interview, and it's a must-read if you want to understand Trump's mindset...


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