White House says DOJ should investigate Times op-ed writer, but won't say what law was broken

The op-ed has sparked a firestorm of controversy.

September 10, 2018, 4:42 PM

The White House on Monday defended President Trump's controversial call for the Justice Department to investigate the author of an anonymous Op-Ed in the New York Times, but could not say which, if any, laws might have been violated.

The Op-Ed, which said that members of the administration were working to thwart some of the president's impulses, sparked a firestorm in Washington and beyond, with Trump even questioning in a tweet whether treason was committed.

"Certainly if there was an individual, if that individual is in meetings where national security is being discussed or other important topics, they are attempting to undermine the executive branch which would be problematic in something the Department of Justice should look into," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

"Does the president not think that that op-ed is protected by the First Amendment?" ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked.

"I think it is less about that part of it and whether or not somebody is actively trying to undermine the Executive Branch of the government and a duly elected president of the United States," Sanders said. "If they don't want to be part of that process, they shouldn't be here."

Pressed on the matter later in the White House briefing, Sanders said that she couldn't identify the law or laws that were allegedly broken, saying she wasn't an attorney.

It was the first press briefing by Sanders in 19 busy, news-filled days, over the course of which Sen. John McCain was buried, Brett Kavanaugh faced Supreme Court hearings on Capitol Hill, and bombshell excerpts of Bob Woodward’s book on the White House were released.

Sanders blasted Woodward’s reporting as "incredibly reckless."

"A number of people came out and said that Woodward never reached out to corroborate statements attributed to them, which seems incredibly reckless for a book to make such outrageous claims, to not even take the time to get a 10-dollar fact checker to call around and verify some of these quotes happened,” Sanders said. “When no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.”

Woodward, who is best known for his investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal, recorded hundreds of hours of source interviews for the book.

“I think you’ve always been fair,” Trump said in a recorded conversation with Woodward released by the Washington Post. “We’ll see what happens.”

The book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” is scheduled for release on Tuesday. As excerpts of the book leaked, Trump’s top presidential advisers felt moved to voluntarily release statements denying certain stories and quotes attributed to them. But on NBC's "Today" program Monday, Woodward said that the denials issued by chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis about quotes in his book are not truthful.

“They are not telling the truth," Woodward said. “These people, these are political statements to protect their jobs, totally understandable.”

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