A parade of denials began in Washington on Thursday, as Vice President Mike Pence and a growing number of other senior officials asserted they were not responsible for an explosive New York Times op-ed by someone claiming to be part of a "resistance" within the Trump administration.
Amid frenzied speculation over who was hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, a spokesman for Pence forcefully denied Thursday morning that it was him. More than a half-dozen Cabinet officials followed suit, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
By lunchtime, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had taken to Twitter, chiding the media for what she called a "wild obsession" and urging citizens to call the Times opinion desk if they wanted to learn the identify of a "gutless loser."
First Lady Melania Trump also weighed in on the controversy, saying in a statement that if "a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words."
Pence's office was the first to speak out on Thursday.
"The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds," Pence spokesman Jarrod Agen wrote in a morning tweet. "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."
Speculation about Pence has been rampant on social media and cable television because of the op-ed writer's use of "lodestar," an archaic word that the vice president has used in multiple speeches.
While traveling in India, Pompeo told reporters, "It's not mine."
"It is sad that you have someone who would make that choice," Pompeo said. "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."
Pompeo blamed the publication of the op-ed on media that he said are trying to undermine Trump, a phenomenon he called "incredibly disturbing."
Coats, meanwhile, released a statement that said speculation that the op-ed was written by him or his principal deputy, Susan M. Gordon, is "patently false."
"From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire [intelligence community] remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best possible intelligence."
Some pundits had suggested that Coats was a possible author in part because, at age 75, he is likely in his final government job.
Later Thursday, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Mattis said, "It was not his op-ed." U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said "no" when asked if it was hers. A spokesman for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it was "laughable" that he was the author.
And a spokesman for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she was not focused on writing "anonymous and false opinion pieces for the New York Times."
Denials also came from the offices of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
The op-ed, published online Wednesday afternoon, was written by a senior official in the Trump administration, according to the Times. It blasts Trump as morally unmoored, criticizes his "impetuous" leadership style and depicts a "two-track presidency" in which Trump acts according to his own whims while many of his top aides, in the author's words, work to thwart his "more misguided impulses until he is out of office."
In addition to painting a dire picture of Trump's decision-making process, the op-ed also states that some top administration officials discussed early in Trump's presidency whether to seek to remove him from office via the 25th Amendment.
"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis," the op-ed says. "So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until - one way or another - it's over."
In a late-morning tweet Thursday, Sanders said, "the media's wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump. Stop."
She accused the Times of being "the only ones complicit in this deceitful act" and provided the phone number for its opinions desk.
In a tweet earlier Thursday morning, Trump suggested that the op-ed was born of frustration from his political adversaries because his administration is doing well. Among other things, he cited economic trends and what he expects to be the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court.
"The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy - & they don't know what to do," Trump wrote. "The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!"
Trump's use of the term "Declassification" appeared to be a reference to an ongoing battle between some Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department over disclosing documents related to the start of the Russia investigation. The lawmakers have contended that such documents would show wrongdoing on the part of FBI and Justice Department officials.
On Wednesday, shortly after the op-ed was published, Trump lashed out at its author, calling the piece "gutless" and demanding that the Times turn over the writer "for National Security purposes."
In a tweet Wednesday evening, Trump wrote a single word: "TREASON?"
John Wagner writes for the Washington Post. The Post’s Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.