Administration

Trump officials ramp up calls to probe op-ed author's identity

President Trump's top aides on Sunday ramped up talks of a possible investigation into the identity of an anonymous "senior administration official" who authored an explosive op-ed last week describing an internal "resistance" seeking to undermine the president.

The op-ed, published in The New York Times, roiled the White House as officials sought to tamp down claims that they could be the anonymous author.

Trump officials took to the Sunday news shows this week to back the president's argument that authoring the op-ed constituted criminal activity - a claim that Democrats were quick to push back on.

Vice President Pence asserted on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump administration officials would uncover the identity of the op-ed writer, adding "we'll find out if there was criminal activity involved."

When host Chris Wallace argued that there was nothing illegal about the op-ed, Pence suggested the author violated their oath to the Constitution.

"The Constitution of the United States vests all executive power in the president of the United States," he said. "To have an individual who took that oath literally say that they work every day to frustrate the president advancing the agenda he was elected to advance is undemocratic."

Trump last week called for the Department of Justice to investigate the writer's identity, casting it as a national security matter. In their op-ed, the author claimed to be part of a secret coordinated effort among White House staff to thwart parts of Trump's agenda and his "worst inclinations."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway seconded Trump's claim that the op-ed might have jeopardized national security, telling CNN's "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper that Trump "doesn't want this person in a meeting where he's discussing China, Russia, North Korea."

"Any president of the United States, Jake, should have the comfort and the freedom to speak with his national security team," she said.

Conway added that "there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity" and suggested that it's possible the author may have committed a crime.

"I have really no idea, nor do you, what else this person has divulged," she said. "I think somebody so cowardly and so conceited would probably go a step further."

But Senate Democrats on Sunday refuted claims that an investigation was warranted, denouncing the notion that the op-ed could have possibly jeopardized national security.

Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that he isn't aware of any legal basis on national security grounds for investigating the author's identity. Instead, he characterized Trump's call for an investigation as an attack on the Department of Justice's independence.

"The real issue here across all of these concerns is that we have a president who in his tweets and in his statements and speeches suggests that he thinks the Department of Justice should act more like the in-house lawyer department or legal department to the Trump Organization, rather than what they are: the independent agency charged with defending our constitution," Coons said.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) echoed Coon's comments in an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation," saying that he sees "absolutely no national security issues" with the op-ed.

Warner added that he views the op-ed as the latest sign of Trump "becoming more and more untethered" and of a White House that is "in chaos."

Trump officials, however, continued to rebuff accusations of a White House in disarray, an idea that gained steam in the aftermath of the Times op-ed and following the release of excerpts from veteran journalist Bob Woodward's upcoming book.

Woodward's book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," points to a number of instances of internal strife within the Trump administration. The journalist paints the picture of an administration working through a "nervous breakdown," describing instances in which staffers took papers from Trump's desk to prevent him from seeing them or from following through on what they believed would be catastrophic decisions on trade or national security.

Pence on "Fox News Sunday" said it's "absolutely absurd" to suggest the White House is in turmoil. He likened the depictions in the Times op-ed and in Woodward's book to those he sees when he watches cable news - representations he says stand in sharp contrast to his own experiences within the White House.

"And then I go to the White House and I feel like I'm in a parallel universe," he said. "I walk into a White House where there's a president behind the desk. He's in command. He's constantly driving forward on delivering on the promises we made for the American people."

Pence again denied that he or anyone on his staff authored the op-ed, saying on "Face the Nation" that he's "100 percent confident" that nobody on his staff wrote it. He also said on "Fox News Sunday" that he would take a lie detector test "in a heartbeat" to prove he didn't author the piece.

The vice president added that he believes the op-ed was an effort "to distract attention from this booming economy and from the president's record of success."

Conway lobbed a similar accusation, saying that the author's motivation "was to sow discord and create chaos."

"And I refuse to be a part of that," she said.

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