The highest-ranking officials in the Trump administration are publicly denying they or their offices authored the infamous anonymous op-ed in The New York Times, an indication of how deeply the episode has shaken the White House.
Among the officials to speak out are Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Defense Secretary James Mattis. The op-ed is written by a "senior Trump administration official" who says they are part of an internal "resistance" working to thwart parts of Trump's agenda and block his worst impulses, and was published amid questions of President Donald Trump's fitness and his control over his administration.
Trump loves a strongly worded denial, and he is closely watching the string of statements, a top White House official tells CNN, adding that they are being printed out and delivered to the President as they come in.
The official added that there has not been a formal request for the statements, but by this point in the administration, Cabinet members are well aware of how he appreciates these messages of support. On Wednesday, Trump praised Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly for strongly pushing back against assertions in Bob Woodward's book that they were critical of the President.
A US official who works in an agency that issued a denial said there was no real internal debate or perceived downside over issuing a statement.
"We didn't write it," the official said. "We're happy to say so."
The essay prompted a hunt in the White House, with the President intent on knowing who wrote the words he suggested could be treasonous, one administration official told CNN.
Aides are following leads based on the way the op-ed is written, looking at key words used in the editorial that stand out, according to a source close to the White House.
Despite the internal interest and the President's demand to smoke out the author, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday slammed the media's "wild obsession" with figuring out the identity. She also blamed the newspaper's opinion desk for being "complicit in this deceitful act" from a "gutless loser."
"The media's wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump. Stop," Sanders tweeted.
Pence, Pompeo quickly push back
The op-ed, published Wednesday afternoon, immediately enraged Trump and touched off a search to find its author. Speculation arose online that it could be someone in Pence's office -- or Pence himself -- who wrote it, given the op-ed's inclusion of the word "lodestar" and several speeches Pence gave using the unusual term. In the op-ed, the official also claimed there were "early whispers within" Trump's Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would require a majority of Cabinet officials to declare to Congress they believe the President is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" and thus leave the vice president in charge.
"The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds. The (New York Times) should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts," Pence's deputy chief of staff and communications director Jarrod Agen tweeted Thursday.
Taking questions from reporters in India, Pompeo said the op-ed is "not mine." He also suggested that the author should quit their job instead of staying to "undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do."
The op-ed coincided with details being reported from Woodward's new book "Fear: Trump in the White House," in which Mattis is quoted as saying Trump has the understanding of a "fifth- or sixth-grader." Mattis personally denied the quotes attributed to him, saying they were "a product of someone's rich imagination."
Asked if Mattis wrote the essay, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told CNN, "It was not his op-ed."
Other Cabinet members issue denials
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: A Justice Department spokesman told CNN that Sessions was not the author.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin: ".@stevenmnuchin1 is honored to serve @POTUS & the American people. He feels it was irresponsible for @nytimes to print this anonymous piece. Now, dignified public servants are forced to deny being the source. It is laughable to think this could come from the Secretary," tweeted Tony Sayegh Jr., a spokesman for the department.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: "From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire (intelligence community) remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best intelligence possible," Coats said in a statement, adding that any speculation that he or his principal deputy Sue Gordon wrote the op-ed is "patently false."
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: "Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men and women of DHS and protecting the homeland -- not writing anonymous and false opinion pieces for the New York Times. These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary and the Department's mission," the agency's press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement.
Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told CNN that Carson "didn't write the op-ed" and also denied writing the piece himself. Williams said he has not gone around asking other officials in the department but doubts it would be someone else at HUD.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley: In response to a CNN question about whether she wrote the op-ed, Haley said, "no."
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue: Asked if Perdue was the author, Tim Murtaugh, a department spokesman, said "no" and referred to Sanders' tweet lambasting the media.
Labor Department Secretary Alexander Acosta: "The Secretary does not play these sophomoric Washington games. He is definitely not the author," a Department of Labor spokesperson told CNN.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie: "Neither Secretary Wilkie nor anyone else at VA wrote the op-ed," VA spokesperson Curtis Cashour told CNN, also pointing to Sanders' tweet.
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney: Spokespersons for the OMB and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both denied that Mulvaney wrote the Times op-ed.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler: "That's a no ... Acting Administrator Wheeler supports President Trump 100% and is honored to serve in his Cabinet. He also believes whoever wrote the op-ed should resign," spokesman John Konkus said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar: "Secretary Azar did not write the op-ed," HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said.
CIA Director Gina Haspel: "No," agency spokesperson Timothy Barrett told CNN when asked if Haspel was behind it.
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