FARGO, North Dakota (AFP) — US President Donald Trump on Friday urged his attorney general to investigate the anonymous author of a damning op-ed, escalating his long-running battles with both the media and leaks from the White House.
Trump also took aim at a book by investigative journalist Bob Woodward which, like the incendiary unsigned piece in The New York Times, offered a damning portrayal of the inner workings of his administration, sparking yet another White House crisis and putting the president on the defensive.
“I would say Jeff (Sessions) should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security,” Trump told reporters traveling with him in North Dakota.
“The Times should never have done that, because really what they’ve done is virtually, you know, it’s treason,” the president said in an interview with Fox News broadcast earlier Friday.
A “whodunnit?” style guessing game has raged in the corridors of power and on social media over the identity of the author, prompting nearly every cabinet-ranked member of the government to deny involvement.
“We have thousands of people that, in theory, could qualify,” Trump told Fox, describing the author’s anonymity as “very unfair,” since it prevented them from being openly scrutinized.
The article, which was published on Wednesday, said “unsung heroes” were quietly working within the administration to frustrate the president’s “worst inclinations.”
That account was also supported by Woodward’s book, which Trump dismissed on Twitter as a “scam.”
“I don’t talk the way I am quoted. If I did I would not have been elected President. These quotes were made up. The author uses every trick in the book to demean and belittle,” Trump tweeted.
“I wish the people could see the real facts – and our country is doing GREAT!”
Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” a 448-page account of an out-of-control administration set to hit bookshelves next week, draws on hundreds of hours of insider interviews.
The respected White House chronicler describes a coalition of like-minded aides plotting to prevent the president from destroying the world trade system, undermining national security and sparking wars.
Woodward’s is not the first unflattering investigation into Trump’s White House, but it has been particularly resonant coming from the man who together with Carl Bernstein authored the Watergate expose that brought down Richard Nixon.
He is one of the most respected living US journalists, and has written extensively on modern American presidents, earning praise from Trump himself in 2013 for his work on Barack Obama.
Woodward describes Trump regularly insulting key members of his own team, who are in turn contemptuous of the president.
Attacking the veracity of the quotes attributed to Trump and his lieutenants in “Fear” has been a central plank of the administration’s attempt to discredit Woodward.
But Trump’s insistence that the words attributed to him are “made up” hasn’t always stood up to scrutiny.
Trump’s claim, for example, that he would never have used the word “retarded” to describe Sessions was quickly undermined by recordings showing he had used the term several times in the past.
While Woodward does not name his sources, he says he spoke with many people currently or formerly working for Trump, discussing not just the president’s personality but also major policy debates regarding North Korea and Afghanistan.
The book depicts Trump aides working to head off potential foreign policy disasters, disregarding a call by the president for the assassination of his Syrian counterpart, and stealing an order that would have canceled a US-South Korea trade agreement.
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