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

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday pushed back on President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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 CoatsEx-Trump official says intel community's testimony interfered in US-North Korea talks Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? Intel agencies' threat assessment matters more than tiff with Trump MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Top Dem demands State Department documents on Khashoggi killing MORE, among others.

“I think the idea that somebody would do it anonymously is hard to get over,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWill Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall Hillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview with Hill.TV.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love 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 DurbinGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees GOP leader presses Trump to agree to border deal Trump divides Democrats with warning of creeping socialism 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