Blog by John Miller

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Art of the denial

Mike Pence didn't write it. If he did, his office said, he'd want a byline. 

It wasn’t Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, either.

It wasn’t anything Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, did and he has no idea who did.

Nor was it  Defence Secretary James Mattis, even though his nickname is Mad Dog.

It wasn’t Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security. Nor Mick Mulvaney, director of the office of management and budget.

It sure wasn’t Ben Carson, director of housing and urban development. He doesn't even read the New York Times.

And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has to, says "it's laughable" anyone would think it's him.

Ditto Robert Wilkie, secretary of veterans affairs.

Kellyanne Conway says it wasn’t her. Again and again and again.

Nor was it CIA director Gina Haspel.

The White House counsel? Don McGahn says he doesn't do illegal.

And it sure wasn’t the U.S. energy secretary, Rick Perry. Wait, or did he just forget the question.

Not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, no.

Donald Trump is furious and his White House is awash in denials as the search intensifies for the mysterious "high-level" official who wrote an anonymous opinion piece published by the New York Times. The official claimed to be part of an organized resistance acting to curb the president’s worst tendencies. "The root of the problem is the president's amorality," the official wrote. "Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."

Donald Trump’s first reaction was to call it treason. Then he questioned whether the official even existed, that perhaps the Times just made it up. Then he called on his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, to investigate the source of the leak on national security grounds.

Wow, no wonder why Trump’s friends and cabinet members are running for cover.

Hold on a minute. Sessions. Has Sessions denied it yet? Um, well, no. So hmmmmmm.

No one managed to deny it better than Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education. She said she didn't even know enough to write about what’s going on. “Secretary DeVos is not a Washington insider and does not play Washington insider games,” her spokesperson said.

And what games are those, one is tempted to ask. Like, telling the truth?

Imagine the dilemma faced by the New York Times. Its reporters are undoubtedly chasing the hottest story in Washington and trying to find out who the author is. But the only people who know are people just down the hall in their own office.

The newsroom, where reporters are assigned, operates separately from the opinion section, which handles the editorial and op-ed pages. The Times has said that  a senior official in the Trump administration used an intermediary to contact op-ed page editor Jim Dao several days ago.

Interviewed on the Times podcast The Daily, Dao said the intermediary was someone "who I trust and I know well."

"They told me that there was this individual in the Trump administration who was very interested in writing an op-ed, and would I want to see it?"

He added, "I almost always say 'Yes, I'm interested in looking at things, and we'll take it from there.'"

Dao, who subsequently spoke directly with the writer, reports to editorial page editor James Bennet, who in turn reports to the Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger. No one in the newsroom, headed by executive editor Dean Baquet, was informed, mostly because Sulzberger would have been mindful of the “Chinese wall” that needs to separate the news and opinion operations. The Times takes that wall more seriously than most newspapers.

So we can assume that it won’t be the Times that reveals the identity of the author, assuming that will eventually come out. And it will fight for its right to protect its source all the way to the Supreme Court if Trump’s justice department investigates.

The editors of The New York Times explained the reasoning behind keeping the senior official anonymous: revealing his or her name would lead to their job “being jeopardized by the disclosure.” However, The Times did reveal that the official was a male, via the pronouns assigned in one of the headlines for the piece. Despite this important clue, former Trump campaign aide and political strategist Michael Caputo claimed on television that he knows who wrote the piece and it’s a she.

Asked to name her, he replied: “A snake.”

So much for that theory.

Dao said he’d published a few other anonymous pieces during his two years as op-ed editor. The most recent was a piece in June by an unnamed asylum seeker from El Salvador.

Anonymity is used as a last resort at the Times and most other newspapers. The Times editorial guidelines say the following: "That standard should be taken seriously and applied rigorously. Material from anonymous sources should be 'information,' not just spin or speculation. It should be 'newsworthy,' not just color or embellishment. And it should be information we consider 'reliable' -- ideally because we have additional corroboration, or because we know that the source has first-hand, direct knowledge."

So right now it seems like a standoff. Trump’s associates continue to deny, deny, deny, like the sycophants they are, genuflecting before the altar of the Narcissist-in-Chief.

And the dysfunctional Trump train trundles on, presumably with a president who’s forced to pay more attention to what is actually lying on his desk, lest it be snatched by an undercover patriot.