A number of top US officials have denied that they are the author of a damning anonymous editorial that attacks President Donald Trump.
The New York Times article, said to be written by a senior White House official, says Mr Trump’s appointees are trying to stifle his agenda.
There is fierce speculation over who is responsible – with the vice-president among those to deny any involvement.
Mr Trump has described the writer as “gutless” and the newspaper as “phony”.
A spokesman for Vice-President Mike Pence has dismissed claims that he wrote the op-ed.
“The vice president puts his name on his op-eds,” tweeted Jarron Agen, Mr Pence’s communications director and deputy chief of staff.
“The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts.”
The theory that Mr Pence wrote the article largely stems from the use of the word “lodestar”, a term meaning “star that leads or guides” and one which the vice-president has frequently used.
In the New York Times piece, published on Wednesday, the author refers to the late Republican Senator John McCain as a “lodestar for restoring honour to public life and our national dialogue”.
Several other cabinet members and top officials have also denied writing the piece, including:
- Defence Secretary James Mattis
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
- Secretary for Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen
- Secretary for Housing Ben Carson
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
- Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Mulvaney
- Secretary for Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie
- Labour Secretary Alex Acosta
- CIA Director Gina Haspel
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry
- Counselor Kellyanne Conway
- Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue
- Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon
Mr Pompeo attacked the writer as a “disgruntled deceptive bad actor”, adding: “I come from a place where if you’re not in a position to execute the commander’s intent, you have a singular option – that is to leave.”
A spokesman for Mr Mnuchin described the anonymous piece as “irresponsible”, while a spokesman for Ms Nielsen said: “These types of political attacks are beneath the secretary and the department’s mission”.
What’s in the editorial?
The article – entitled I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration – is written by someone the New York Times describes as a senior official in the Trump administration. The paper says the author requested anonymity and that this was essential to deliver an “important perspective” to its reader.
“Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the article says.
“I would know. I am one of them.”
Although the writer says they support the administration’s objectives, they say that its successes have come in spite of the president, who is described as impulsive, erratic and amoral, someone whose “misguided impulses” need to be controlled for the good of the US.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognise what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t,” it says.
How has the White House responded?
Angrily. One of Mr Trump’s tweets simply said “TREASON?”. Another said the “Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do”, pointing to the growing US economy as an achievement.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the author was “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”.
She later criticised the media’s “wild obsession” with the identity of the author, and tweeted out the phone number of the New York Times’ opinion desk, telling followers to call them “if you want to know who this gutless loser is”.
Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump said: “If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words.”
Why does it matter?
The White House is already on the defensive amid questions over Mr Trump’s suitability for office raised in a book by revered political journalist Bob Woodward.
Fear: Trump in the White House also describes staff deliberately undermining the president, with some hiding sensitive documents from him to prevent him signing them, and other aides calling him an “idiot” and a “liar”. Mr Trump has called the book a “con”.
One of the most explosive passages in the New York Times article says there were “early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment”, which would allow Mr Trump to be forced out of office.
That top officials are reportedly working against the elected US leader has raised some alarm and not just from the White House. In the Atlantic, David Frum, a Republican commentator who is a fierce critic of Mr Trump, called it “constitutional crisis”.
“What the author has just done is throw the government of the United States into even more dangerous turmoil,” he wrote. “He or she has enflamed the paranoia of the president and empowered the president’s wilfulness.”
Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake wrote: “If they were truly that worried, you’d have to think they would be so alarmed that they’d come out publicly about what’s happening.”
A former CIA director, John Brennan, who has been strongly critical of Mr Trump, called the article “active insubordination” although he said it was “born out of loyalty to the country”.
Others have wondered whether it was an attempt to distance the Republican administration from their president ahead of the important mid-term elections. BBC.