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

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday pushed back on President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border 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 CoatsDNC unveils new security checklist to protect campaigns from cyberattacks Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall Is Putin attacking Sanders, Harris and Warren to help Trump? MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump selects Kelly Craft for United Nations ambassador Father of Alabama woman who joined ISIS sues Trump administration Russia extends detention of US citizen accused of spying: report MORE, among others.

“I think the idea that somebody would do it anonymously is hard to get over,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview with Hill.TV.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being 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 DurbinKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run 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