Washington • U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was one of dozens of administration officials who on Thursday denied that they were the anonymous author of a New York Times op-ed slamming President Donald Trump and saying a group of administration officials have been doing what they can to thwart the commander in chief’s “erratic behavior.”
Some news outlets have speculated that Huntsman, a former Utah governor who did not back Trump in the election but took a highly visible ambassadorship, could be the anonymous “senior official” behind the explosive op-ed published Wednesday.
Huntsman strongly pushed back on that idea.
“Come to find, when you’re serving as the U.S. envoy in Moscow, you’re an easy target on all sides,” Huntsman said in a statement tweeted out by his spokeswoman, Andrea Kalan. “Anything sent out by me would have carried my name. An early political lesson I learned: never send an anonymous op-ed.”
The White House, and pretty much all of Washington, was on a hunt Thursday to find out who submitted the anonymous opinion piece and the denials flowed. Vice President Mike Pence, through a spokesman, said he didn’t write the piece and the Times “should be ashamed" for publishing it, "and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed.”
Among those denying authorship were Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, along with other Cabinet officials and senior aides to the president.
The anonymous op-ed did not mince words, arguing there was a cadre of officials within Trump’s administration working to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
“I would know. I am one of them,” the author wrote. “To be clear, ours is not the popular 'resistance' of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
The author touts some successes in Trump’s tenure such as gutting regulations and tax reform, but the “successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
The New York Times' opinion editors say they know the identity of the author and have granted that person anonymity as a way of offering what they call an “important perspective.”
Trump’s White House scolded The Times for publishing the op-ed and charged it was another attempt by the “liberal media” to smear the president.
“The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected president of the United States,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders. “He is not putting country first but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.”
Trump went further, arguing in a one-word tweet, “TREASON?”
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the author for hiding behind anonymity and working against a president he serves.
“The American people elected Donald Trump as our president and they should be trusted,” Stewart said in a tweet. “I don’t believe this type of behavior is good for our country. This nameless op-ed is an act of cowardice and plays into the hands of those who wish to further divide us.”
The op-ed came just a day after details from Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” were published by The Times and The Washington Post among others. The new tome paints the White House as “crazytown” and quotes senior officials making derogatory remarks about Trump behind his back.
It also described acts of defiance against the president: reporting that former top economic adviser Gary Cohn stole papers off the president’s desk to keep him from withdrawing from international trade agreements and that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis unilaterally rejected Trump’s directive to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after that dictator’s chemical attack on civilians last year.
Trump, who considers loyalty a must for people who work for him, was “volcanic” with anger and “absolutely livid,” The Post reported.
“It’s like the horror movies when everyone realizes the call is coming from inside the house,” one former White House official in close contact with former co-workers told The Post.
The right-leaning National Review was first to speculate Huntsman was behind the op-ed, noting the opinion piece heralds the late Sen. John McCain, whom Huntsman considered a mentor, and also for language talking about U.S.-Russian relations.
Huntsman has served every president since Ronald Reagan in positions ranging from a staff assistant in the White House to U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.
Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of Ambassador Huntsman, is the publisher and owner of The Salt Lake Tribune.