Senior Trump officials scrambled on Thursday to publicly shout “not me!” in the wake of a blistering New York Times column anonymously published Wednesday afternoon by a senior Trump administration official.
“There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first,” the unnamed senior official wrote in the rare anonymous op-ed. “There are adults in the room.”
Within minutes of the column’s publication, reporters and civilians alike on Twitter became amateur sleuths hellbent on solving the whodunnit based on language clues in the piece.
Early speculation pinned the column on Vice President Mike Pence, who has used the uncommon word “lodestar”—which appears in the column—in a number of speeches.
Pence’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen tweeted on Thursday morning that, unlike the anonymous author, the vice president “puts his name on his op-eds.”
Some have also pointed out that the column’s preface clears him anyway, since it notes that the senior official’s “job would be jeopardized” by publishing the writer’s identity—and Pence cannot be fired.
Others suspected Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in light of reports that the president had called him “retarded”—a claim first reported by Bob Woodward and further confirmed Wednesday by The Daily Beast.
But a Justice Department spokesperson said Thursday morning that Sessions did not author the editorial, which characterized Trump as unstable, erratic, and childish.
Secretary of Energy and former Texas Governor Rick Perry tweeted on Thursday afternoon that he was not the piece’s author either.
“Hiding behind anonymity and smearing the President of the United States does not make you an ‘unsung hero,’ it makes you a coward, unworthy of serving this nation,” Perry wrote.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, also denied any involvement. As did Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose spokeswoman told reporters on Wednesday that "it was not his op-ed."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also denied any part, with her office noting in a statement that the secretary “is focused on leading the men of women of DHS and protecting the homeland—not writing anonymous and false opinion pieces. These types of political attacks are beneath the secretary and the department's mission.”
Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence, called any speculation about his involvement “patently false” on Thursday.
“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,” he wrote in a statement.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also chimed in on Thursday morning, telling The Guardian, via a spokesperson, that he was innocent of writing the now-viral opinion piece.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did the same, telling reporters at a meet-and-greet in India that he had nothing to do with the column. Pompeo chided the “liberal newspaper” for trusting someone who was clearly a “disgruntled deceptive bad actor” and said the Times should not have published the editorial in the first place.
“I come from a place where if you're not in a position to execute the commander's intent, you have a singular option, that is to leave,” Pompeo said.
And the denials kept rolling in.
When asked on Thursday, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told NBC News: “Of course not.”
More pointedly, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s office said “the secretary does not play these sophomoric Washington games” and that he “is definitely not the author.” An EPA spokesperson said that its acting chief Andrew Wheeler “supports President Trump 100 percent” and that he believes “whoever wrote the op-ed should resign.”
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie’s office said he wasn’t involved, in a statement to NBC News. As did a spokesperson for CIA Director Gina Haspel and one for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue. Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon also denied writing the letter, via a spokesperson.
“When you’re serving as the U.S. envoy in Moscow, you’re an easy target on all sides,” said Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in a statement Thursday. “Anything sent out by me would have carried my name. An early political lesson I learned: never send an anonymous op-ed.”
Steve Mnuchin’s spokesman, Tony Sayegh Jr., said the treasury secretary is “honored” to serve the president and believes The New York Times was “irresponsible” in printing the piece.
“Now, dignified public servants are forced to deny being the source,” he tweeted. “It is laughable to think this could come from the secretary.”