President Trump has said the US Department of Justice should try to identify the writer of an anonymous New York Times opinion piece supposedly written by a senior member of his own administration.
Mr Trump cited “national security” as he called on attorney general Jeff Sessions to open an investigation to unmask the author of the piece who claims to be part of an administration “resistance” movement straining to thwart the president’s most dangerous impulses.
“Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security,” Mr Trump said. If the person has a high-level security clearance, he said: “I don’t want him in those meetings.”
Though it was strongly critical of Mr Trump, no classified information appears to have been revealed by the author or leaked to the newspaper, which would be one crucial bar to clear before a leak investigation could be contemplated.
But Mr Trump’s call is the latest test of the independence of the Justice Department, which is supposed to make investigative and charging decisions without political interference from the White House.
A day earlier, Mr Trump’s top lieutenants stepped forward to repudiate the op-ed in a show of loyalty to their incensed boss, who has ordered aides to unmask the writer.
By email, by tweet and on camera, the denials flooded in from cabinet-level officials, including vice president Mike Pence.
Senior officials in key national security and economic policy roles charged the article’s writer with cowardice, disloyalty and acting against America’s interests in harsh terms that mimicked the president’s own words.
In an interview with Fox News, Mr Trump said the author “may not be a Republican, it may not be a conservative, it may be a deep state person who has been there for a long time”.
However, there is a long list of officials who plausibly could have been the author. Many have privately shared some of the article’s same concerns about Mr Trump with colleagues, friends and reporters.
With such a wide circle of potential suspicion, Mr Trump’s men and women felt they had no choice but to speak out.
The denials and condemnations came in from far and wide: secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of defence Jim Mattis denied authorship on a visit to India; interior secretary Ryan Zinke chimed in from American Samoa.