Donald Trump's top lieutenants scrambled Thursday to deny authorship of an explosive op-ed article that has plunged his presidency into its worst crisis yet by proclaiming a secret insider resistance to his reckless, "amoral" leadership.
"The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy - & they don’t know what to do," Trump said in tweet early Thursday.
"The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!"
By midday, seven senior officials had disavowed the piece, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, they stepped forward, one after another, with their own version of the same message: "Not me."
The White House has been convulsed since Wednesday by a fevered hunt for the senior official who declared, in an unsigned article for The New York Times, that "unsung heroes" were quietly working within the administration to frustrate the president's "worst inclinations."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary said in a statement that the author of the op-ed should step down.
“The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States,” Sanders said.
“He is 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.”
“The media’s 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 wrote on Twitter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "feels it was irresponsible for @nytimes to print this ... It is laughable to think this could come from the secretary," spokesman Tony Sayegh said on Twitter.
But the internet and Trump's own aides were abuzz with speculation over who the unnamed official might be and whether the act of defiance was tantamount to a coup in the making.
The opinion column titled "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration", published on Wednesday, prompted the Republican president to blast the anonymous writer and the news outlet, and further fueled accusations by critics that Trump was unstable and unfit for the presidency.
"TREASON?" Trump asked in a furious volley of tweets.
Moving to squelch internet speculation, Pence's spokesman said the vice president did not write the article.
"The Vice President puts his name on his Op-eds. The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed," Agen wrote on Twitter.
"Our office is above such amateur acts."
The denial by Pence came as other Republicans, notably Trump’s Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio, came to the president’s defense and said the writer should have resigned before making the accusations.
"America has one duly elected president. Anybody serving at his pleasure should do so faithfully," Senator Marco Rubio said in a Twitter posting.
"When they feel they no longer can, they should resign & speak in their own name so the country can evaluate their insights with a full understanding of where they are coming from."
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a statement, “Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men and women of DHS and protecting the homeland - not writing anonymous and false opinion pieces for the New York Times."
The manifesto followed a bombshell book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, who portrayed Trump's White House as an out-of-control "crazytown."
The Woodward book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," reported that senior aides lifted documents from the Oval Office desk to keep the president from acting on his impulses, reinforcing the assertions in the Times op-ed piece.
News of the letter caught up with Pompeo in New Delhi, where he was traveling with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Pompeo denied writing the article, calling the Times' decision to publish "sad" and "disturbing."
"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," he said.
"And this person instead, according to the New York Times, chose not only to stay but to undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do.
"It's not mine," Pompeo added, referring to the article.
Coats, who as intelligence chief has at times been publicly at odds with the president, released a statement calling speculation that he or his deputy had written the op-ed article "patently false."
"We did not. From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire IC (intelligence community) remain focused on our mission to provide the president and policymakers with the best intelligence possible."
Meanwhile Trump's United Nations envoy Nikki Haley was asked on her way to a meeting of the Security Council if she was the anonymous correspondent and responded, simply: "No."
James Dao, who runs the Times op-ed page, told CNN he received the article through an intermediary several days ago, calling the timing of piece's publication and the Woodward book "a coincidence."
The author's identity is known to the opinion page editors of the Times, the newspaper said.
On its podcast "The Daily," Dao said he was approached by someone he trusted about publishing the article. He told CNN he had spoken directly with its author, but did not elaborate.
In one eye-opening passage, the author said there was talk among members of the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which provides for the removal of the president if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
Many senior officials in the administration have been working from within to frustrate parts of his agenda to protect the country from his worst impulses, the anonymous Trump official wrote.
In the end, they decided not to set off a constitutional crisis, and instead "vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office," the person wrote.
Trump responded with fury, on Twitter and in comments at public events at the White House, calling it a "gutless editorial."
"Does the so-called 'Senior Administration Official' really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source?" Trump tweeted.
"If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!"
The official is “probably here for all the wrong reasons,” Trump continued, and then vowed that he would win re-election in 2020.
The Times acknowledged the "rare step" of publishing an anonymous editorial but said the official's job would be jeopardized if they were identified.
"We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers," the paper said.
The official's piece described a "two-track" presidency in which Trump says one thing and his staff consciously does another, citing the president's alleged preference "for autocrats and dictators."
The writer, identified by the Times only as a senior administration official, said that he or she, and others in government, have vowed to thwart the president’s “more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
“The root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” the anonymous official wrote. “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”
Staff actively worked to insulate themselves from Trump's "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective" leadership style, the writer said.
Late Wednesday night, Trump again took to Twitter to tell his followers, "I’m draining the Swamp, and the Swamp is trying to fight back. Don’t worry, we will win!"