Five Key Questions About The New York Times’ Anonymous ‘Senior Official’

Peter Hasson | Reporter

One day after The New York Times published an op-ed from an anonymous “senior official” in President Donald Trump’s administration who trashed the president and claimed to be secretly working against his or her wishes, five key questions remain unanswered.

  1. Who wrote it?
    The question everyone is asking: Who is the anonymous official? TheNYT appeared to let slip in a tweet that the author is a “he,” though the paper later claimed the gendered word was used in error. Twitter has been filled with speculation — based on the official’s sentiments and word choices — about the writer’s identity. CNN’s Chris Cillizza published 13 guesses about the official’s identity, “based on what we know about the various factions, likes, dislikes, motivations and ambitions within the Trump administration.” Denials have begun rolling in from prominent officials in the administration. (RELATED: Denials Roll In From Top Admin Officials On Op-Ed) 
  2. How senior is this person?
    Just how senior is this anonymous “senior official”? The Trump administration has “roughly 1,200 positions” that require Senate confirmation, including 640 “key positions,” according to PolitiFact. Axios’s Mike Allen similarly noted in his newsletter that the “senior official” label could apply to “hundreds of officials.” If the person who wrote the op-ed isn’t an assistant to the president or a cabinet-level official, TheNYT would likely face a backlash for exaggerating the official’s importance in the administration.
  3. Why did this official write it?
    The author’s decision to remain anonymous and continue working against a president he or she is supposed to be helping has been sharply criticized in the press. “Here, I think, President Trump’s use of ‘gutless’ is apt,” wrote Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan. “The piece is an exercise in ego, although I have no doubt that the writer is thrilled with his or her own display of courage.” The Atlantic’s David Frum argued the official’s op-ed was meant to portray himself or herself as heroic but instead threw “the government of the United States into even more dangerous turmoil.” Still, until the author is identified, it will be tough to say exactly what the motive was.
  4. Who was the intermediary?
    The anonymous senior official submitted the op-ed to TheNYT using an intermediary, according to the paper. The intermediary has not yet been identified.
  5. How accurate is the op-ed?
    Democrats in Congress have been eager to tout the official’s claim that “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment.” Other claims are similarly damaging to Trump, including that “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” But it’s difficult to evaluate those claims without knowing who or how credible the author is.

Follow Hasson on Twitter @PeterJHasson

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