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

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday pushed back on President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades 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 CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Linda Ronstadt tells Pompeo at dinner that he'll 'be loved' when 'he stops enabling Donald Trump' Gaetz defends Ukraine call: Trump acted on 'sincere' concerns of corruption MORE, among others.

“I think the idea that somebody would do it anonymously is hard to get over,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview with Hill.TV.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Chuck Todd challenges Cruz after senator pushes theory that Ukraine meddled in election Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' 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 DurbinSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban 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