The hunt for ‘Anony­mous’ writer fades into ob­scu­rity

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jonathan Lemire and Cather­ine Lucey

WASH­ING­TON — Re­mem­ber Anony­mous?

One month ago, an uniden­ti­fied Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial set off a White House firestorm by claim­ing in a New York Times opin­ion piece to be part of a se­cret “re­sis­tance” force out to un­der­mine parts of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda.

The ar­ti­cle trig­gered cries of “trea­son” from Trump and a de­mand that the pow­ers of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be brought to bear to root out the dis­loyal of­fi­cials. And then not much hap­pened. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which ex­isted more in name than prac­tice, stalled. A move to clean house never oc­curred. The au­thor’s iden­tity is still a mys­tery.

Still, publi­ca­tion of the piece, along with a new Bob Wood­ward book paint­ing a pic­ture of a pres­i­dent whose im­pulses were be­ing thwarted by his own staff, has had some last­ing af­ter­shocks.

The pres­i­dent, al­ready be­sieged by leaks, has closed ranks around the Oval Of­fice, grow­ing far more sus­pi­cious of staff and trust­ing fewer West Wing per­son­nel.

That’s ac­cord­ing to four White House of­fi­cials and Repub­li­cans close to the White House who were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

The Sept. 5 publi­ca­tion of the op-ed rocked Wash­ing­ton. The au­thor, de­scribed only as a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, wrote that “Many Trump ap­pointees have vowed to do what we can to pre­serve our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions while thwart­ing Mr. Trump’s more mis­guided im­pulses un­til he is out of of­fice.”

The writer went on: “It may be cold com­fort in this chaotic era, but Amer­i­cans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully rec­og­nize what is hap­pen­ing. And we are try­ing to do what’s right even when Don­ald Trump won’t.”

The piece landed the same week as Wood­ward’s “Fear” and em­pha­sized the book’s themes — that Trump ap­peared un­fit for of­fice and some of his clos­est aides viewed them­selves as a bul­wark be­tween his worst de­ci­sions and the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

Trump was in­censed about the op-ed, call­ing around to con­fi­dants to vent about the au­thor, so­licit guesses as to his or her iden­tity, seethe that it ap­peared in the news­pa­per he loves to hate, and com­plain that a “deep state” within the ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­spir­ing against him.

White House chief of staff John Kelly, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Bill Shine and press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders con­vened a se­ries of closed-door meet­ings and or­dered a cur­sory leak search, in­clud­ing en­forc­ing a pre-ex­ist­ing ban on per­sonal phones, ac­cord­ing to three White House of­fi­cials not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about in­ter­nal meet­ings.

But as the op-ed was wiped from the head­lines by other news events, most no­tably the con­tentious Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for Brett Ka­vanaugh, the probe was qui­etly pushed aside.

Though the pres­i­dent con­tin­ued to vent about the leaks, aides never con­ducted an ex­haus­tive search, ac­cord­ing to two of the of­fi­cials. And many ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials rec­og­nized that there was a long list of of­fi­cials who plau­si­bly could have been the au­thor.

Trump has con­fided to al­lies that he still is frus­trated by fre­quent leaks and feels that there are few aides around him whom he can fully trust, ac­cord­ing to the three White House of­fi­cials and Repub­li­cans close to the White House.

ALEX BRAN­DON/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has con­fided to al­lies there are few aides whom he can trust, ac­cord­ing to three White House of­fi­cials and Repub­li­cans close to the White House.

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