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Pence, Pompeo each deny writing anonymous NY Times op-ed trashing Trump

Trying to figure out which senior administration official wrote the opinion article has become a D.C. guessing game.
Image: U.S. Vice President Pence speaks at the National World War II museum in New Orleans
Vice President Mike Pence, at the National World War II museum in New Orleans last month, denied writing an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times.Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

Two top administration officials — Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — denied Thursday that they were behind a damning anonymous opinion article published in The New York Times a day earlier.

Pence's office told NBC News it "definitively denies" that the vice president wrote the op-ed article — in which a senior administration official said the cause of the president's problems was his "amorality" and that officials were working to thwart initiatives that they believed could put the country at risk.

Pence's communications director also tweeted a denial, along with criticism of The Times' decision to publish the piece.

"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," wrote Jarrod Agen, who also serves as Pence's deputy chief of staff. "Our office is above such amateur acts."

Later in the day, Pence tweeted that the op-ed article was "disgraceful" and he called on the author to resign.

Online speculation about the author's identity quickly centered on Pence because of the author's use of the word “lodestar” — a word that Pence has used numerous times in public speeches.

While on a state visit to India, Pompeo also denied writing the article, saying, "It's not mine."

"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," Pompeo said.

"And if that piece is true, if it’s accurate, if it’s actually — I think they described it as a senior administration official — they should not well have chosen to take a disgruntled, deceptive, bad actor’s word for anything and put it in their newspaper," he said.

Later Thursday morning, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Dan Coats, the top intelligence official in the U.S., also issued denials.

"Speculation that The New York Times op-ed was written by me or my Principal Deputy is patently false. We did not," Coats, the director of national intelligence, said in statement. "From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire IC remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best intelligence possible."

A spokesman for Nielsen said his boss was "focused on leading the men and women of DHS and protecting the homeland — not writing anonymous and false opinion pieces for the New York Times."

"These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary and the Department’s mission," the agency's press secretary, Tyler Q. Houlton, said in a statement.

Additional denials — including from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — poured in throughout the day Thursday, while Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a tweet that people asking "for the identity of the anonymous coward" should, instead, direct their questions to The Times.

In a message posted to Twitter, Sanders shared the phone number of the newspaper's opinion desk.

"They are the only ones complicit in this deceitful act," she wrote.

First lady Melania Trump took the unusual step of criticizing the author, too.

In a statement, she said, "Unidentified sources have become the majority of the voices people hear about in today's news."

"People with no names are writing our nation's history. Words are important, and accusations can lead to severe consequences," she wrote. " If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves."

"To the writer of the oped - you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions," the first lady added.

The author of the article, which The Times identified only as a senior official in the Trump administration, wrote that "many of the senior officials in his own administration" are working against Trump from within "to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

The administration official also confirmed reports that there were once internal Cabinet discussions about removing Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, but said in The Times that now "we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over."

The Times explained in a note to readers why it published an anonymous op-ed article, saying it had "done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure."

The article set off a firestorm of attacks from Trump himself, who called it "gutless" at a White House event Wednesday night before tweeting about it several times.

On Thursday morning, former CIA Director John Brennan, a regular and fierce critic of Trump, warned that the publication of the op-ed article would add to the president's frustrations and likely create more conflict.

"I do think things will get worse before they get better," he said. "A wounded lion is a very dangerous animal."