Trump Wants Dept. Of Justice To Investigate Source Of Anonymous Op-Ed

President Trump wants Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department to investigate the anonymous Op-Ed published earlier this week even though there doesn't appear to have been a crime committed.

In response to the anonymous Op-Ed published earlier this week in The New York Times regarding what some have described as an internal rebellion inside the Administration, President Trump is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate:

WASHINGTON — President Trump intensified his attack Friday on an anonymous Op-Ed essay published in The New York Times, declaring that he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the source of the article, which he has condemned as an act of treason.

Mr. Trump said he was also considering action against The Times, though he did not elaborate. Prosecutors said it would be inappropriate for the Justice Department to conduct such an investigation, since it was likely that no laws were broken, while The Times said it would be an abuse of power.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as he traveled to Fargo, N.D., Mr. Trump said, “I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security.”

The president has raged against the essay since The Times published it on Wednesday afternoon, setting off a frenzy of speculation in the capital about the identity of the author and prompting a parade of denials from cabinet members and other prominent officials in the Trump administration.

Mr. Trump’s latest remarks indicate that he wants to use the machinery of the government to root out the source of the Op-Ed, which described some administration officials as being in a state of near mutiny against a president they view as dangerous and untethered from reality.

“We’re going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he’s talking about, also where he is right now,” he said.

While the president suggested that the anonymous writer was not a senior official, he said that the person might nonetheless have a security clearance that allows him or her to attend sensitive national security meetings involving China, Russia or North Korea.

“I don’t want him in those meetings,” Mr. Trump said.

To set an investigation into motion, the White House counsel’s office would normally contact the Justice Department. It is not clear whether the White House has done that. A spokeswoman for the department said it does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

“For the Justice Department to investigate, you need a good-faith belief that a federal statute has been violated, and I can’t think of a law that would be violated by sharing information — that is not classified — in an Op-Ed,” said Barbara L. McQuade, a former United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.


The Times’s editorial page department identified the writer as a “senior official in the Trump administration” — a classification that could apply to hundreds of government employees.

Mr. Trump said he was open to the idea of administering lie detector tests to members of his staff to determine the identity of the source. But he added, “Eventually the name of this sick person will come out.”

After a week of damning disclosures, Mr. Trump has struggled to contain the sense that he sits atop an out-of-control administration. He insisted that the White House was a well-oiled machine and blamed a vengeful, corrupt news media for the appearance of disarray.

At a rally Thursday night with supporters in Billings, Mont., he complained that the cloak of anonymity made it difficult to discredit the author. “It may not be a Republican, it may not be a conservative,” he said. “It may be a deep state person that’s been there a long time.”

“It’s very unfair to our country and to the millions of people that voted really for us,” Mr. Trump said.

Trump also responded to the Op-Ed on Twitter:

Based solely on what is contained in the Op-Ed it’s not clear at all what it is the President would have the Justice Department investigate. The article doesn’t set forth any classified or otherwise secret information, nor does it allege any activity that could really be considered illegal. At its worst, the piece describes a group of people inside the Administration who, although they support the policy goals that the President and Republicans on Capitol Hill may have in mind, are concerned about the manner in which this President is governing and the decisions that he might make if he weren’t restrained by some of the advisers around him. While this may be considered disloyal, and the President would be well within his rights to fire the person or persons who might be behind the article, there doesn’t appear to be any crime being committed here. Without that, there would be no justification for the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or any other law enforcement agency outside the White House to open an investigation. Of course, as I’ve noted before, respect for the Rule of Law isn’t exactly a strong point for this President so it isn’t surprising that he would be making a call like this.

Even more absurd than the idea that the anonymous Op-Ed is somehow a violation of the law is his claim that it is somehow a threat to national security. The Op-Ed does not reveal anything secret, doesn’t compromise the nation’s negotiating position with respect to anything going on in North Korea, the Middle East, or elsewhere in the world, and does not reveal any military secrets. All it does is reveal that there are people inside the Administration who are concerned that this President is acting in a manner that may not be in the best interests of the United States and attempt to reassure people that there are those inside the West Wing seeking to restrain his impulses. As I’ve said earlier this week, I’m not sure that this is the best strategy for people in this position to be following and the idea of the kind of “soft coup” described in the Woodward book is disturbing and entirely inappropriate, but the Op-Ed itself doesn’t appear to me to violate any law and it would be entirely wrong.

The most disturbing thing about all of this, of course, is the fact that it is yet another example of the President attempting to use the Department of Justice to go after his political enemies. This, of course, is precisely what President Nixon was accused of doing during Watergate and was one of the grounds of impeachment that would have been voted out against him had he not resigned from office. While it’s still far too early to know if Trump will suffer a similar fate, the fact that this is his first instinct is both telling and profoundly disturbing. Hopefully, Attorney General Sessions will continue to resist these calls to politicize his department.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mikey says:

    As Peruvian caudillo Oscar Benavides–a right-wing authoritarian Trump would doubtless have admired–once said:

    “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”

  2. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Generally speaking doesn’t the DOJ limit their investigatory activities to actual or suspected crimes.
    Has an actual (or susected) crime been alleged here?

    Now should the DOJ either ignore or slow-walk the presidential request is that tantamount to undermining the presidency?

    It seems to me that this situation is (possibly) the kind of thing that the op-ed writer and cohorts are being accused of as saboteurs.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Even more absurd than the idea that the anonymous Op-Ed is somehow a violation of the law is his claim that it is somehow a threat to national security. The Op-Ed does not reveal anything secret, doesn’t compromise the nation’s negotiating position with respect to anything going on in North Korea, the Middle East, or elsewhere in the world, and does not reveal any military secrets.

    Hmmmmm…. trump has revealed secrets, continuously compromises the nation’s negotiating position with respect to anything going on in North Korea, the Middle East, and everywhere else in the world, and yes, some of those secrets he revealed were of a military nature. If that is the definition of a threat to national security, well, if the shoe fits, wear it.

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    This is going to get very bad. I could see factions within Trump’s cabinet hurling suspicion on each other in the hopes that someone gets fired.

  5. CSK says:

    Ivanka and Jared are already hammering Trump with the idea that John Kelly is behind the memo, and that Kelly is determined to “destroy [Trump’s] presidency.”

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The thing that I’m curious about is if the DOJ that he wants investigating this event is the same one that is run by that low energy coward Jeff Sessions and is already rolling over on behalf of the Mueller Witch Hunt, or is it different one.

  7. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Don’t forget that Trump has already called Sessions a traitor (in addition to a retard) for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. So why would Trump want a traitor investigating treason?

  8. Tyrell says:

    My money is on Slender Man.

  9. Kathy says:

    For El Cheeto Loco it’s not about the law, but about what he thinks of as a crime. The crime is making El Cheeto look bad. To him that must be near the ultimate crime, worse than rape or murder. The fact that it sin’t against the law must make him furious.

    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving usurper.

  10. Kathy says:


    This is going to get very bad. I could see factions within Trump’s cabinet hurling suspicion on each other in the hopes that someone gets fired.

    I’m baffled why you’d call this “bad.”

  11. Gustopher says:

    I’m just sittin’ here, rootin’ for injuries.

    Can Trump actually be goaded into impermissible government overreach against establishment conservatives? With they fight back? Will we get to watch?

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Tyrell: weak, and a little off character — too modern of a cultural reference.

    Try for something older: “My money is on the one-armed man”, perhaps. If you want to get a little subversive to your character, maybe Boo Radley.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Collateral damage. That’s what they call you, me, and everyone else who isn’t so rich nothing can touch them.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Hal_10000: I have to say, that’s been the trump admin since day one.

  15. Tyrell says:

    @Gustopher: Those are great.
    I did put in the “Cigarette man” in another post.

  16. Hal_10000 says:


    Because it can always get worse. If this results in the ouster of someone like Mattis or Kelly, we could be in a war by Christmas.

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah, he shoulda gone to Google and read the review snip included…

    Slender Man is just a bad movie, and bad in every possible way.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: Considering that both Mattis and Kelly are part of Team “NK represents the greatest existential threat to the nation’s security of our time,” that’s still true.

  19. Scott O says:

    There’s only one way to get to the truth of the matter. Waterboarding everyone in the Trump administration.

  20. Slugger says:

    @One American: The Mueller investigation has cost $16.7 million so far. The Department of Justice spent about $18 billion in 2017. There have been lots of indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions for less than a tenth of a percent of the DOJ budget. Thank you, Director Mueller for your prudent stewardship in addition to the other good you do.

  21. Kylopod says:


    Ivanka and Jared are already hammering Trump with the idea that John Kelly is behind the memo, and that Kelly is determined to “destroy [Trump’s] presidency.”

    I suspect that says more about their need for a fall guy than any real suspicions they have (they wanted Kelly gone before this episode, and now they have a convenient excuse), and it says a lot about their willingness to point fingers before they have all the facts on the table–guilty until proven innocent.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @One American: Let’s see:

    The yearlong investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email for official business while she was Secretary of State ended Tuesday with FBI Director James Comey’s declaration that the bureau would not recommend prosecution to the Justice Department.
    What Comey didn’t say and what the FBI is declining to reveal is how much the investigation cost, how many agents were involved and how many people were interviewed.
    Last May, the conservative online magazine American Thinker estimated that the FBI tab alone would be north of $20 million – and it did not include what was spent by the State and Justice Departments.

    Add to that the cost of the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on an American embassy in Libya by the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which helped prompt the email probe, and the price tag rises to close to $30 million.

    Convictions? 0 as in Zero, Nada, None. Not even an indictment.

    Meuller’s investigation in Russian interference in our elections?

    $16.7 million.
    Convictions? 8.
    Indictments? 26 Individuals and 3 Corporations.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    In moderation for no doubt too many links:

    @One American: Short reply to stupid comment:

    Hillary email and Benghazi investigations? $30 million. Convictions? Zero. Indictments? Zero.

    Mueller investigation? $16.7 million. Convictions? 8. Indictments? 26 individuals, 3 corporations.

    Next time try googling before you stick your foot in your mouth.

    ps: Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, so he has been on the job for 1 year, 3 months, and 22 days. You can’t even follow a calendar.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: Right now everybody in the trump admin is pointing fingers and sharpening their knives. Several people are going down, the only question is who and the answer is those who are unable to demonstrate sufficient loyalty to trump.

  25. CSK says:


    Oh, certainly. Ivanka’s been in a rage against Kelly ever since he barred her from waltzing in to see Daddy whenever the spirit moved her. At least as of yesterday, Trump seemed to be resisting the pressure from her and Jared.

  26. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s what’s most enjoyable about this episode. They’re eating each other alive, and even if it finally comes out who wrote the op-ed, there’s going to be a sense of lingering distrust and betrayal that outlasts the revelation. It’ll sever relationships and probably will lead to multiple firings and resignations. They won’t be the same again, no matter what happens from here on out.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    Did anyone happen to catch the NPR bit where they asked Bush’s AG Alberto Gonzales whether it was appropriate for a President to ask for this? It just reminded me all over again what a morally bankrupt cesspool the Republican Party has been since long before Trump. The interviewer led off by asking what should have been a softball: does the AG work for the American people and the Constitution or for the President. Since Gonzales is the epitome of folksy-on-the-outside, enabler-of-torturers-on-the-inside, he refused to directly answer the question, but in the remainder of the interview he made it clear he felt the AG’s most important duty was to find a legal rationale for whatever the President wanted to do.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: Cannibalism, it’s not just for cannibals anymore.

  29. Eric Florack says:


    Should President Trump need a model to use to track down leakers inside his administration like the “anonymous” insider who challenged his authority in a New York Times op-ed, he need go no further back than the Obama administration that prosecuted leakers and shutout the media.

    According to reports at the time from even New York Times journalists, no administration was tougher on leakers and punishing to the media than Obama’s, a saga reinforced by reporters who have called Trump’s team more forthcoming.

    Criticism of Obama’s attacks on the media and leakers did not just come in tweets and TV appearances by journalists but in an official report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, authored by former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.

    “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, in the report.

    USA Today said of the report, it “portrays an administration gripped by strict policies about information flow and paranoid about leaks across all executive branch departments.”

    It detailed prosecutions and even the use of lie-detectors on staffers. Some have encouraged Trump to use lie-detector tests on his staff, something he has so far ignored.

    While Trump has ripped leakers and the anonymous Times writer of being cowards and traitors, it was Obama who took the war to a higher level by targeting staff and reporters while also cutting out the media to promote its story via social media.

    “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in the Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate. The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent,” wrote Downie in the report that was criticized by Obama officials.

    can the double standard being applied here be any more plain? When a Democrat does it it’s just fine and dandy. When a republican does it he’s Hitler.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Eric Florack: This is actually worth replying to, both on substance and because it is illustrative of the modern day Republican mindset.

    Substance: No one is saying that a President doesn’t have the authority to seek out and fire those in their administration that engage in unauthorized leaks. Of course they do. What Trump is attempting is completely different. He is attempting to make it a criminal act to speak negatively about the President. He is essentially trying to bring back the Alien and Sedition acts. That’s the story here.

    So, how is this illustrative of the modern Republican? Well, the refutation of Florack’s argument is right there in the evidence he slams down on the table with such a “Gotcha!” But the modern Republican isn’t looking to understand issues. They are merely looking for words to be strung together that sound like things they want to hear. Worse, they live in a Fox News bubble where nonsense arguments like these go unchallenged, so they never develop the thinking skills necessary to understanding whether an argument has any merit. When some hapless Trumpoid grabs one of these hack pieces and comes charging over to OTB to “Own the Libs!” he is doomed.

  31. Eric Florack says:

    And we’re to believe that Obama was not precisely doing the same thing?

    you can spread that on any field and get a substantial crop per acre increase

  32. Eric Florack says:

    The desperation of the left in these matters as well as the nonsense that we were all witness to in the judge kavenaugh hearings are both of a piece, and unavailing.

    But please, keep doing what you’re doing. The best chance the Republicans have 4 remaining in power, (and thereby the country continuing to prosper) is for the electorate to be exposed to what the Democrats truly represent.

  33. MarkedMan says:

    And we’re to believe that Obama was not precisely doing the same thing?

    You couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the modern Republican.
    MR: “Here’s an example of Obama using the justice system to go after leakers!”
    Sane Person: “The example doesn’t demonstrate that at all.”
    MR: “There May not be evidence, but of course he did!”

    I used to think the MR’s endless smears against their opponents were just political dirty tricks, but over the years I’ve come to see that they really believe their smears, in as much as a MR actually believes anything in their hazy chaotic world. And it makes a certain kind of sense from their point of view. They have no morals or ethics and if they were in Obama’s position of course they would attempt to use the AG to act as a political enforcer, and of course if they were the AG they would use every dirty trick they could and ruin people’s lives simply for getting in their way. They get so frustrated with all these calls for evidence because they already know that this is the way anyone would act, because it is the way they would act.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @One American: Umm… you DO get that arguing “I’m an accountant” to someone who just established that you were being innumerate is kinda… well… stupid, right?

  35. Tyrell says:

    There was a time when the news media would not use “unidentified sources”, “unnamed sources”, or “well placed sources”. That was when they had a professional code of conduct.
    That is why I use alternative news sources that report facts, not opinions, propaganda, or half baked reports.