First lady Melania Trump stepped into the White House’s war on its anonymous critics, condemning the unnamed writer of a New York Times op-ed on President Donald Trump’s fitness for office as “cowardly” in a statement to CNN.
“Unidentified sources have become the majority of the voices people hear about in today’s news,” Trump’s statement lamented. “People with no names are writing our nation’s history.”
The first lady has not been known to regularly weigh in on the Trump administration’s media coverage, certainly not in the open and vociferous way the president has since he took office.
But her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said she issued the first lady’s statement Thursday after CNN asked her if she had a response to the op-ed essay published late Wednesday, in which an anonymous “senior administration official” described himself or herself as “part of the resistance inside the Trump administration.”
“We were asked the question and she felt it important to respond,” Grisham told USA TODAY.
Trump’s statement opened with a genuflection to free speech and a free press, then shifted to a more rebuking tone.
“The press should be fair, unbiased and responsible,” she chided. “Words are important, and accusations can lead to severe consequences. If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves.
“To the writer of the op-ed – you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.”
The statement was strong for Melania Trump, who is generally a low-key FLOTUS who rarely tweet-shouts at anybody compared to her husband.
Meanwhile, the president and his aides are furious about the op-ed, coming on the heels of a similarly critical new book about dysfunction in the Oval Office by famed Watergate journalist Bob Woodward.
In a Thursday tweet, the president has called the writer “gutless,” suggested the author does not exist and the Times made it up, demanded the Times turn over the writer for “national security” reasons. A day earlier, he posted a one-word tweet that simply asked, “Treason?”
By contrast, the first lady’s statement was way less incendiary but still got her point across. Although Melania Trump watches CNN despite her husband’s hostility to the network, she is also known to agree with him in describing the administration’s press coverage as generally unfair.
But this latest move by her again counters speculation, or wishful thinking, among Trump detractors who think she might herself be a critic of her husband who has chosen to express her dissent in subtle ways. For instance, her first major solo international tour will be in October in Africa, home to some of the countries he reportedly described in crude terms during a January meeting about immigration.
Meanwhile, the White House hunt for the identity of the anonymous inside critic has already begun, including even textual analysis of the essay for telltale signs of possible writers.
News outlets such as USA TODAY and CNN have already published lists of people who might be the author.
So far, Vice President Mike Pence and a number of cabinet members and other high-ranking officials have denied they are the person behind the essay. Among them, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Homeland Security director Kirstjen Nielsen.