Trump Cabinet officials rush to distance themselves from anonymous op-ed

Members of President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE's Cabinet rushed on Thursday to deny they were the "senior administration official" behind a New York Times op-ed bashing the president and describing widespread internal efforts to blunt his decisions.

More than a half-dozen high-ranking officials issued statements before noon distancing themselves from the op-ed, titled "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration." By mid-afternoon, the list had grown to roughly 20 administration officials.

The author remained anonymous, prompting furious speculation over who penned the piece and forcing officials otherwise out of the spotlight to issue public denials.

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"The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds. The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed," said Jarrod Agen, communications director for Vice President Pence.

"Our office is above such amateur acts," he added.

Internet sleuths zeroed in on the use of the word "lodestar" in the op-ed, highlighting multiple instances over the past few years in which the vice president has used the uncommon descriptor in his speeches.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight MORE issued a similarly sharp denial to reporters during a trip to India, blasting the Times for publishing the words of a "disgruntled, deceptive bad actor."

"It shouldn’t surprise anyone that The New York Times, a liberal newspaper that has attacked this administration relentlessly, chose to print such a piece," he said.

"And I’ll answer your other question directly, because I know someone will say, gosh, he didn’t answer the question," Pompeo added. "It’s not mine."

Pompeo suggested the individual behind the piece should leave their job if they're unwilling to follow through on Trump's agenda and accused the Times of taking part in an effort to "undermine" the administration.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether officials were encouraged to issue denials, or whether staffers were actively looking to determine the author's identity, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement ripping the media for its "wild obsession" with the identity of the author.

The search, she said, is "recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump." Sanders urged reporters to contact the Times's opinion desk instead of the White House, adding the Times's phone number to a tweeted statement.

In the face of rampant speculation, a steady stream of denials came forth throughout Thursday morning into the afternoon.

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, who has had public differences with Trump over the severity of foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, quashed speculation that he was behind the piece.

“From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire [intelligence community] remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best intelligence possible," Coats said in a statement.

Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson told The Hill that Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump nominates ambassador to Turkey MORE did not write the op-ed.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele Nielsen2,000 asylum seekers return home, decide to stay in Mexico: report Trump taps FEMA official to lead agency Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden MORE, who has reportedly endured harsh criticism from Trump during Cabinet meetings, also distanced herself from the op-ed through a spokesman.

"Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men & women of DHS and protecting the homeland — not writing anonymous & false opinion pieces for the New York Times," Tyler Houlton, press secretary for the the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. "These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary & the Department's mission."

A spokesman for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House confirms new trade talks with China Hillicon Valley: Facebook weighs crackdown on anti-vaccine content | Lyft challenges Trump fuel standards rollback | Illinois tries to woo Amazon | New round of China trade talks next week On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE called it "laughable" that Mnuchin would write the op-ed.

"He feels it was irresponsible for @nytimes to print this anonymous piece. Now, dignified public servants are forced to deny being the source," Tony Sayegh Jr. tweeted.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice referred The Hill to Sanders's statement on Thursday.

Secretary of Labor Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaDOJ opens investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein sex offender case Sasse calls on DOJ to investigate its handling of wealthy sex offender's plea deal Accusers won't testify for now against wealthy sex offender: report MORE, Secretary of Energy Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryThe Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE, Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration Trump dismisses Ann Coulter after criticism: 'I hardly know her' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight MORE and White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWhite House seeks to clarify Trump remarks on emergency Trump says he 'didn't need to' declare emergency but wanted 'faster' action Trump dismisses Ann Coulter after criticism: 'I hardly know her' MORE were among those who denied they were behind the op-ed as the day progressed.

The op-ed provides few hints as to the author's identity, and a Times opinion editor has said a "very small number of people" know the writer's identity. The Times's decision to grant the individual anonymity is uncommon and suggests they are a high-ranking official.

The author wrote that they are part of a "steady state" of administration officials who "thwart" Trump's worst inclinations. The op-ed was fiercely critical of the president, calling out his "amorality" and labeling his impulses "anti-democratic."

“We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” he wrote.

The author praised the “unsung heroes” inside the administration, explaining that the group has “gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing.”

“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the author wrote. “We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”

--Updated at 2:06 p.m.