Donald Trump says US Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate op-ed author out of ‘national security’ concern
‘Eventually the name of this sick person will come out,’ says Trump, referring to the anonymous writer of ‘The New York Times’ opinion piece on his administration
US President Donald Trump has said he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to determine the author of an anonymous New York Times op-ed that claimed top officials in the administration are working to thwart presidential actions they consider misguided.
“I think it is national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece is because I really believe it is national security,” Trump told reporters travelling with him on Air Force One on Friday.
In response, Sessions’s spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, said only that “the department doesn’t confirm or deny investigations”.
Watch: Trump slams NYT’s op-ed as ‘gutless’
Asked if the government would take legal action against The New York Times for publishing the essay that it said was written by a “senior official in the Trump administration”, the president responded that his administration was “looking at that right now”. He added: “Eventually the name of this sick person will come out.”
In a statement on Friday afternoon, theTimes said it was “confident the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power.”
The essay, which said some of Trump’s closest advisers work in secret to thwart his “more misguided impulses until he is out of office”, has enraged the president.
He said in tweets that the newspaper must turn over the writer to the government “for National Security purposes” and asked, “TREASON?”
Trump also said Friday that he was still open to answering questions from special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Failing New York Times! pic.twitter.com/SHsXvYKpBf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
The president’s lawyers have been in on-and-off negotiations with Mueller’s team since the end of last year.
“I think if we are going to meet, it has to be a fair meeting,” Trump said.
While anyone can ask the US Justice Department to open an initial review into leaks, the op-ed article that infuriated Trump is not likely to justify a full investigation because there is no immediate indication that classified information was compromised, according to two US officials.
“I see no basis for any legitimate referral for an investigation by DoJ,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor. “I didn’t see anything in there which could rationally be argued to be an exposure of confidential information.”
Trump has repeatedly demanded that Sessions look into allegations of wrongdoing by Democrats and what he and his allies portray as an anti-Trump cabal that existed in the Justice Department and FBI during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Trump also criticised Sessions for the indictment of two Republican House members before the November midterm elections.
Shortly after Trump’s call for a Justice Department investigation into the op-ed article, Obama rebuked his successor in a speech in Urbana, Illinois.
“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents,” Obama said.
“Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up.”
Trump has openly criticised and ridiculed Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, but the attorney general has embraced Trump’s views on most other law enforcement issues, including leaks from inside government.
Sessions announced last year that the Justice Department would step up efforts to investigate and prosecute leaks, increasing by three times the number done under the Obama administration.