Lodestar. Treason. Sleeper cells.
These are just a few of the terms being tossed around a day after the New York Times published an opinion column written by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration.” The unsigned author claimed to be part of a secret “resistance,” operating inside and around the White House, that’s protecting the nation from the president’s “more misguided impulses.”
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the author wrote. “We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”
The column reportedly elicited “volcanic anger” from President Donald Trump, who responded on Wednesday with a one-word tweet: “TREASON?”
The Failing New York Times! pic.twitter.com/SHsXvYKpBf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
The president wrote in another tweet: “Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”
News of the unprecedented move spread quickly through Washington.
“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 Washington Post.
On social media, the column sparked widespread and far-fetched speculation about the identity of the author, who seems to lean Republican given their implicit endorsement of traditionally conservative goals:
“Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more,” the author wrote.
Currently, the leading clue is a rather conspicuous word used by the anonymous author: lodestar, which is an astronomy term defined as a star that is used to guide the course of a ship.
Some noticed it’s a word Vice President Mike Pence seems to use frequently, spawning one of the most remarkable speculations in the search for the anonymous official.
— David Mack (@davidmackau) September 5, 2018
Dan Bloom, a senior producer at Panoply Media, seems to be one of the first to have fleshed out the theory on Twitter, writing that lodestar “just seems like an unusual word to use in general, not to mention in an op-ed that's going to be widely read.”
The word is "LODESTAR." Note that it comes in the same paragraph praising John McCain. That would rule out flame-throwers like Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino and suggest someone with Senate ties. This reveal is not going to take long. pic.twitter.com/NwnUtvFlko
— Dan downLODESTAR Bloom (@danbl00m) September 5, 2018
Others have proposed the author is someone from within Pence’s office.
If "lodestar" is the big clue, and given that Pence has used the word routinely in speeches, I would propose the key suspect is Pence's *speechwriter.*
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) September 5, 2018
Interestingly, Henry Kissinger also used the word lodestar recently, during his Eulogy to John McCain last weekend.
But what seems most likely is that lodestar is a red herring included in the piece to throw people off the track of the real author. It wouldn’t be the first time a White House official has used the tactic.
“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers' idioms and use that in my background quotes,” a White House official told Axios in May. “That throws the scent off me."
In any case, Pence told reporters on Thursday that the column is “a disgrace” whose publishing represents “a new low in American journalism” and “the New York Times should be ashamed and I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed as well.”
Other White House officials to deny authorship of the piece include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, and Director of National Intelligence chief Dan Coats.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the anonymous author a “coward” in a statement. First Lady Melania Trump echoed that sentiment on Thursday.
— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) September 6, 2018
In an interview on Fox News, Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, downplayed the column and suggested its author could be one of thousands of political appointees.
“It's not clear to us in any way that it was someone in the White House,” she said. “It says, ‘senior administration official,’ that could be many people. There are thousands of political appointees and hundreds of folks that would qualify for that title alone,” she said of the unnamed senior Trump administration official.
Just for fun. My wild guess list of top 5 possible NYT op-ed writers:
1.) Nikki Haley; buying insurance for future POTUS race
2.) Steve Mnuchin. Avoid looming pariah status in NYC
3.) Kirstjen Nielsen. Hates POTUS
4.) Dan Coats. Plan for Show Trials.
5.) Gina Haspel. #tradecraft
— Mike Murphy (@murphymike) September 5, 2018
The column was published the same week Bob Woodward released a bombshell book outlining first-hand accounts of White House officials’ frustration and lack of confidence in the president, who referred to the book as a “work of fiction.”
“This book means nothing,” Trump told reporters.
It’s unclear whether the identity of column’s author will be uncovered. One White House aide even suggested to The Washington Post that the author could be seeking glory and wants to be identified. In any case, it seems unlikely the New York newspaper will ever reveal the official who penned the column.
“Now that the president’s calling for the Times to disclose the identity, are there any circumstances that you could ever conceive under which the Times would share the identity of this person?” Michael Barbaro, host of The Daily podcast, asked James Dao, the Op-Ed editor for the New York Times.
“I cannot,” said Dao.