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Flake rebuts Trump: Anonymous op-ed author did not commit 'treason'

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller CNN to partner with The Des Moines Register on polling ahead of 2020 Iowa caucuses MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday pushed back on President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE's claim that the author of an anonymous op-ed blasting the president had committed treason.

"I don't think that this person has committed treason as the president has said, and no, The New York Times should not turn him or her over,” Flake told Hill.TV in an interview.

Flake, a vocal critic of Trump who is retiring after this Congress, weighed in amid a furious response from the White House to identify the op-ed author, whom the Times identified on Wednesday only as a "senior official" in the administration.

Trump has repeatedly condemned the author of the piece over the past two days. The official described themselves as part of a "resistance" inside the administration, blasting the president's "amorality" and his views on trade and democratic principles.

The official wrote that "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."

A slew of senior administration officials have denounced the op-ed while denying being the author, including Vice President Pence, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsDems slam Trump for siding with Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi killing Dem senator demands public intelligence assessment on Khashoggi killing Hillicon Valley: Official warns midterm influence could trigger sanctions | UK, Canada call on Zuckerberg to testify | Google exec resigns after harassment allegations | Gab CEO defends platform | T-Mobile, Sprint tailor merger pitch for Trump MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump attends Army-Navy game Trump reportedly demanding more funding from South Korea for American troops’ presence Heather Nauert is the wrong choice for UN ambassador MORE, among others.

“I think the idea that somebody would do it anonymously is hard to get over,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage On The Money: Markets roiled by trade tensions | Rally on hopes of Fed pause on rate hikes | Senate sends two-week spending measure to Trump | Consumer bureau pick confirmed | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 Trump runs into GOP opposition with NAFTA threat MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview with Hill.TV.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzStrategist behind Warren's political rise to meet with O'Rourke: report Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform Sanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' MORE (R-Texas) scolded the Times for publishing a piece based on a senior official: "This is Washington, D.C., there are thousands of people that call themselves senior officials; so it doesn't mean anything without any context.”

Cruz said it’s not surprising that “there are people in the administration working against the president," adding, "That's been a dynamic we've seen in previous Republican administrations, but no one has seen it as intensely as has President Trump and I think it's unfortunate."

Several longtime Democratic senators were quick to seize on the op-ed, which came a day after the first excerpts emerged of veteran journalist Bob Woodward's new book that paints an image of a chaotic White House with senior officials quietly working being the scenes to blunt various decisions made by Trump.

“It is troubling and it’s scary to think that there are people around this president who are so worried about his judgement and his instability that they are literally pulling papers off his desk and trying to find ways to keep important decisions away from him,” Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform Political opposites come together for Bush funeral Live coverage: Washington honors George HW Bush with state funeral MORE (D-Ill.) told Hill.TV on Thursday.

“I can’t recall another moment in history quite like that,” Durbin said.

"I must admit, I don't always get to read everything in the newspaper — I read that one," Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said of the op-ed.

Cruz suggested that Trump try to ignore the op-ed moving forward and focus instead on the policy accomplishments of his first few years in office.

“My approach is to ignore this whole circus, ignore all the attacks, focus on substance, we are gaining incredible results for the American people,” Cruz said.

— Molly Hooper