Who Wrote the Anonymous Op-Ed?

(Photo: Daniel Schwen)

Who’s the anonymous Op-Ed writer? Like FBI Agent Jack Baer looking for Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects (1995), the first question is, does the anonymous writer exist? If only President Trump had Jack Bauer to figure it all out in 24 hours, instead of Jack Baer looking in all the wrong places with all the usual suspects.

Does the Op-Ed writer exist? Yes, more than likely the writer exists. The New York Times is not going to publish a fake Opinion Editorial. But there are other possibilities as well. First, is the author a singular writer, or an amalgamation of authors? People in the Executive Branch aren’t exactly standing up next to Kirk Douglas shouting, “I am Spartacus!” “No, I am Spartacus!” (By the way, Senator Orrin Hatch’s tweet yesterday was perhaps the funniest tweet by any politician in the social media era, just sayin’.) No, instead, we’re meant to believe that there an Illuminati-like club inside the Trump Administration whose members banally walk the halls of the White House with facades of loyalty while hiding their true intentions like armies of Londoners wearing Guy Fawkes masks in V is for Vendetta (2005).

So, did one person write the Op-Ed, or was one person chosen to write for the group, or did the group of White House officials who are concerned write the Op-Ed together? After all, if there are “many of the senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” then my question is, do these senior officials met together? Do these senior officials coordinate with each other? Because, if there is a ‘Resistance’ in the White House working together, then why would a singular member write an Op-Ed to the New York Times?

Which brings me to the next question, why was the Op-Ed written? What was the point of the Op-Ed? It seems to me that the author could idyllically-speaking be genuinely seeking to force a conversation about the 25th Amendment. Ulteriorly-speaking, however, the author or authors may be simply trying to inoculate themselves from a future fallout. Because, the writer’s career in this Administration is over, and probably any career in public office. When the identity is ultimately revealed, the best financial hope for the writer is a book deal, compensation for TV appearances, and the long-term goal of resurrecting one’s reputation in 20 years like Watergate’s John Dean. In international relations, there is something called Rational Actor Theory, in which we assume that people make decisions rationally in their own best interests and/or the best interests of their country. Presumably, then, the author wrote the Op-Ed for a rational reason, whether we agree with the decision to write or not.

So, why now? First of all, why September 5, 2018? Is it a coincidence that the Op-Ed was published the day after parts of Bob Woodward’s new book Fear was released? The only person that I can think of who is that calculating in the release of information is Bob Mueller. And, for the record, I don’t think Mueller is the writer. I do think it’s a fascinating coincidence. Because the Woodward book was released by CNN, whereas the Op-Ed was published by the New York Times. It is also worth pointing out that, if the Times published on September 5th, the Op-Ed was written several days earlier, before the Woodward scoop by CNN.

To discuss the why now? returns us to the question of why? again as well. I’ve already discussed the personal interests of the author(s), but are their other considerations? Strategically-speaking, who benefits from the publication of the Opinion-Editorial? At face value, the biggest winners from the publication of the Op-Ed are the New York Times, as well as the partisan media from both sides of the political spectrum, Democratic candidates for Congress in 2018, and Trump himself. Yes, Trump benefits from the Op-Ed. The Op-Ed reinforces partisanship of both those who loathe, as well as those who love, President Donald J. Trump.

As far as I can tell, the losers in this situation are the White House senior officials, whether the staffers are the author of the Op-Ed or not. Because, if the author(s) are real, there must be a rational impetus to write the Op-Ed now, because it’s the “senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration [who] are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” who now have a harder job.

While Dick Armitage et al. may have outed Valarie Plame to deflect criticism of the Bush Administration, in this situation the covert operatives have outed himself, herself, or themselves. Because of the publication of the Op-Ed, senior officials may now be required to take polygraphs, sign affidavits, live under a cloud of suspicion, work in a more chaotic work environment, all the while helping to run the government of the United States and clandestinely “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.” Why would someone(s) risk exposure?

And, after all, what does the word senior mean anyway? There is always the possibility that the author of the Op-Ed has an overly self-indulgent sense of his/her own importance. But, if it was not a recognizable senior official, why would the New York Times not only go to lengths to hide the identity, I’m more interested in how the New York Times would even know the person in the first place? Imagine how many letters-to-the-editor and opinion editorials each and every day; How and why did this Op-Ed get noticed? Because the author is recognizable and/or a verifiably senior official. And that official’s (or officials’) own job(s) just got harder. Inevitably, the senior official(s) who wrote the supposedly anonymous Op-Ed will be identified. The senior official will be fired. Perhaps the author cares not about being fired; the writer is so angry or so concerned, that rational thought has exited the building and the senior official (Kevin Hassett or Kirstjen Nielsen) will ride into martyrdom like the Charge of the Light Brigade.  But, rationally-speaking and according to Rational Actor Theory, the senior official would only take that risk if the official was already leaving (Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions), an official with enormous stature who has already retired once (Dan Coats), or one of the only two senior officials in the White House who cannot be fired: President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Michael Richard Pence.

Yes, Trump benefits from the publication of the Times’ Op-Ed, but I’m not sure Trump has the strategic calculation skills to plant an anonymous Op-Ed like a Straw Soldier (the Times certainly would not publish an anonymous Op-Ed that the editorial staff knew to be President Trump). And then there is Mike Pence, who increasingly reminds me of the fictitious Vice President Ted Matthews in the (1996) film My Fellow Americans. The only senior official in the administration who cannot be fired and who also has a penchant for using the word lodestar. Which raises the question, why would an anonymous writer use a word that could so easily be tied back to the senior official? The anonymous author is also a little too happy to use the word resistance for me to believe Sessions is the Op-Ed writer, though he certainly has become a significant roadblock to Trump’s impulsiveness.

I suspect that a lawyer who has no interest in running for political office or being in the public spotlight, who already met with Bob Mueller’s team for 30 hours, and who has already announced his departure from the White House might be well considered one of the usual suspects. After all, it is already well-known that McGahn blurred the truth to prevent Trump from firing Mueller in December 2017. But why would McGahn write an anonymous opinion editorial to the New York Times now, at this juncture in time? Quit now and write it with a byline or wait until the announced departure in December 2018 to write an opinion editorial.

I can, however, envision a scenario in which the Director of National Intelligence is cognizant enough to intentionally use lodestar as a red herring, and use the word resistance too without too much discomfort. There is little question that the former U.S. Senator, who served with John McCain, would always choose country over party and, frankly, maybe be inspired to write an anonymous Op-Ed to the New York Times as he watched two memorial services and watch non-stop praise for McCain’s patriotic independence. I suspect Dan Coats would be aware of “many of the senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration [who] are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” whether those officials are cooperating with each other or operating as patriotic lone wolves. Dan Coats, former Representative of IN-4 and former U.S. Senator from Indiana, also knows both Vice President Dan Quayle of Indiana and Vice President Mike Pence of Indiana quite well. He knows Mike Pence, the only senior official who cannot be fired and is the beneficiary of any impeachment proceedings or invocation of the 25th Amendment.