Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
NEW YORK —On Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times posted an anonymous op-ed titled: “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
The piece is remarkable. Identified only as a “senior official in the Trump administration,” the piece lays out how the author — as well as other colleagues within the administration — are waging a semi-open campaign to keep the President from doing too much damage to the nation.
“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 author writes.
Beyond the way the author is identified, there are very few clues about who it could be. And the description used by the Times — “a senior official in the Trump administration” — is broad enough to include virtually anyone in the Trump White House, a Cabinet official, undersecretary or someone on, say, the National Security Council.
Beyond that, the only hint we have comes from this tweet of the op-ed, from The New York Times social team: “In an anonymous Op-Ed, a senior Trump administration official says he and others are working to frustrate the president’s ‘misguided impulses.'”
Later, a spokeswoman for the Times said that the tweet was a mistake. “The tweet was drafted by someone who is not aware of the author’s identity, including the gender, so the use of ‘he’ was an error,” Danielle Rhoades Ha said.
What we know: The guessing game of who wrote the op-ed will dominate official Washington circles for the foreseeable future. And everyone who fits the description of a “senior Trump administration official” will have to answer as to whether it was them.
Another thing we know: Trump is pissed. “TREASON?” he tweeted on Wednesday night.
Below, 13 people who might be the author of the op-ed, based on what we know about the various factions, likes, dislikes, motivations and ambitions within the Trump administration. These are in no particular order.
We know the White House counsel is a short-timer — planning to leave in the fall. We also know that McGahn has clashed with Trump repeatedly in the past — refusing Trump’s order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. And McGahn has already shown a willingness to look out for the broader public good, sitting down for more than 30 hours with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to aid their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Director of National Intelligence is very much a part of the long-term Washington establishment, having spent not one but two stints in the nation’s capital as a senator from Indiana. Coats has also shown a tendency to veer from the Trump songbook. Informed of Trump’s plans to invite Russian president Vladimir Putin for a summit in the United States this fall, Coats said “That is going to be special” — a line that drew the ire of the President.
Conway, a White House counselor, is someone who has survived for a very long time in the political game. And not by being dumb or not understanding which way the wind blows. Plus, there is the X-factor of her husband — George — whose Twitter feed regularly trolls Trump.
The chief of staff has clashed repeatedly with the President and seems to be on borrowed time. Kelly sees his time in the job as serving his country in the only way left to him. Might he view exposing Trump in this way as a last way to be of service?
The head of the Department of Homeland Security is a close ally of Kelly, who we know has a very fraught relationship with Trump. And she has reasons of her own: Trump scolded her in a Cabinet meeting over the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country. Nielsen reportedly drafted a resignation letter but backed away.
Sessions sticks out as a possibility for a simple reason: He’s got motive. No one has been more publicly maligned by Trump than his attorney general. Trump has repeatedly urged Sessions to use the Justice Department for his own pet political concerns. And this week, Sessions found out that Trump has referred to him as “mentally retarded” and mocked his southern accent, according to a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Sessions is also someone who spent two decades in the Senate prior to being named attorney general by Trump after the 2016 election.
The defense secretary has been Trump’s favorite Cabinet member. But the quotes attributed to Mattis in Woodward’s book are VERY rough on Trump, though Mattis quickly denied that he ever said them. And if anyone has less to lose than Mattis — he is a decorated military man serving his country again — it’s hard to figure out who that would be. Plus, Mattis is an ally of John Kelly (see above) and Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state that Trump ran out on a rail.
Hill, a Russian expert who joined the Trump administration from the Brookings Institution, a DC think tank, might have reason to so publicly clash with Trump. She is far more skeptical about Russia’s motives than Trump — and was notably left out when Trump and Putin huddled on the sides of the G20 meeting in Germany in 2017. She was a close adviser to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was removed from the White House. And, she was also reportedly mistaken for a clerk by Trump in one of her earliest meetings with him on Russia.
The vice president is all smiles, nods and quiet, deferential loyalty in public. Which of course means that he has the perfect cover to write something like this in The New York Times. Pence is also ambitious — and there’s no question he wants to be president. But would taking such a risk as writing this scathing op-ed be a better path to the White House than just waiting Trump out?
Pence’s deputy chief of staff and communications director Jarrod Agen denied Thursday that Pence or anyone from their office authored the op-ed.
The United Nations ambassador is, like Pence, one of Trump’s favorites. She is also, however, someone deeply engaged on the world stage and a voice of concern when it comes to how the President views Russia and Putin. Haley, again like Pence, is ambitious and has her eye on national office. Would this service that goal?
The combination of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump — Javanka! — writing this op-ed would be right out of a soap opera. But that is sort of a perfect way to describe the Trump administration, right? Ivanka Trump said she would work to make her voice heard to her father, but there’s little evidence he’s listened much to her or her husband. Might this be a bit of revenge?
To be clear, I don’t think the first lady did this. But her willingness to send messages when she is unhappy with her husband or his administration is unmistakable. (“I really don’t care. Do U?”) And, if you believe this administration and Trump are governed by reality shows rules, then Melania writing the op-ed is the most reality TV thing EVER.AlertMe