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Anonymous Op-Ed Criticizes Trump, Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings


The New York Times describes the author of an opinion article about President Trump as, quote, "a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us." The anonymous author says President Trump is amoral and erratic, constantly changing his mind and that people like this official have been saving the country from his worst instincts. Our colleague Mara Liasson said on the air this morning that the op-ed quote rings true and matches what she hears while reporting. A book by Bob Woodward describes a former aide taking an ill-advised presidential order off the president's desk so he would not do damage by signing it. All of these things have come out during a week when there is also a Supreme Court hearing before a Senate committee, Brett Kavanaugh taking questions. And so very much - a lot of things to discuss with Raj Shah, White House spokesperson who's on the line.

Welcome back to the program, sir.

RAJ SHAH: Steve, thanks a lot for having me on.

INSKEEP: Is it apparent from the facts we just gave that a lot of people inside the administration think something is seriously wrong with the president?

SHAH: I don't think so. You have an op-ed signed by one anonymous senior administration official making a series of allegations or claims that are really just his own opinion - or his or her own opinion. I think that this senior administration official should take the cloak off and admit who they are and resign and let the public see, you know, who he or she is and what his or her vantage point is and describe with some detail, rather than kind of just, you know, broad statements, what he or she is making...

INSKEEP: Well, it's interesting...

SHAH: ...What he or she is trying to say. I mean, it's a gutless approach, frankly.

INSKEEP: You want the person to reveal themselves. President Trump has said the Times should turn in the writer. How, if at all, are people in the White House trying to identify this person?

SHAH: Well, I've been on the Hill, as you referenced about - regarding the Kavanaugh hearings all this week. So frankly, I haven't been, you know, in hourly touch with my colleagues in the West Wing. But you know, I think that if the individual's identity is revealed, that person should be fired. A person who's working within the administration at the pleasure of the president should be entrusted to carry out his orders or his policy agenda. And if they're not doing that, they should get another job. I mean, it's that simple.

INSKEEP: What does it...

SHAH: You cannot function in any workplace where subordinates are undermining the principal. It's that simple.

INSKEEP: What does it say that this is a person, as you say, serving at the pleasure of the president, meaning the president hired this senior administration official? This is somebody...

SHAH: Presumably, yeah.

INSKEEP: Presumably, this is somebody who's on the president's team, who supports the president's agenda, says so in the op-ed and nevertheless comes away with this disturbing sense of a person who is amoral and doesn't - isn't very mentally organized.

SHAH: Well, I think it's shameful. I think this op-ed says more about the author than it does about the president. Look. The president has many critics, and he has many supporters. And he won the election fair and square in November of 2016. And every president has supporters and critics. It's that having somebody in a senior-level position criticizing the principal is, you know, highly unusual. And that person should leave his or her job - that simple.

INSKEEP: We also have this Bob Woodward book in which a number of people - and the sources are not directly named - but incidents are described about the president's behavior in office. The incident of taking the document off the desk to keep him from signing a damaging document is in there. And we also have this recording between President Trump and Bob Woodward, the author. He tried for months, he says, to get an interview with the president, finally got him on the line after the book had gone to press. And they have this discussion, which is merely about why the president never agreed to an interview. Can we listen to just a little bit of that?


BOB WOODWARD: I understand that...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I certainly don't mind talking to you. And I wish I could have spoken to you.

WOODWARD: Well, it...

TRUMP: But you know - but nobody called my office. I mean, you went through...

WOODWARD: But what - I mean...

TRUMP: ...I guess, different people.

WOODWARD: Mr. President, how can I spend all this time talking to people and - like Kellyanne and Raj and Republican senators? I mean...

TRUMP: Who were the senators? No, they never called me about it.

WOODWARD: Senator Graham said he had talked to you about talking to me. Now, is that not true?

TRUMP: Senator Graham actually mentioned it quickly on one meeting.

WOODWARD: Well, see...

TRUMP: And - you know, that is true. That is true. Well, that - no, but that is true. Mentioned it quickly, not like, you know - and I would certainly have thought that maybe you would have called the office.

INSKEEP: All they're discussing, Raj Shah, is an interview request. But the president of the United States says things that aren't true. He's called on it. He seamlessly changes his story and goes on. Do you hear nothing wrong there?

SHAH: Well, I don't know all the circumstances surrounding that, who Bob Woodward contacted. He did contact me at one point in the spring, and I passed along the request to others that may have been involved with scheduling his interviews. But you know, I don't necessarily - I mean, you're talking about a series of events over the course of many months.

I think the broader problem with the Woodward book that's been brought forward is that people who are quoted - actual scenes in which they are either doing certain actions or are seeing things or are quoted saying things - those individuals themselves have put out statements questioning the veracity of the book, from the chief of staff and the secretary of defense to the president's personal lawyer. So I think the people who are actually cited within the book questioning its veracity about their own statements and their own actions, I think, raise credibility questions.

INSKEEP: Now, let me ask about Brett Kavanaugh while I still have you on the line. Of course, he's been...

SHAH: Please.

INSKEEP: ...Taking questions - (laughter) that's the center of your life, I know, at the moment - many questions...

SHAH: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Before the Senate committee yesterday. He declined to get specific - which, up to a point, is appropriate for someone who may be a justice judge in cases - declined to be specific on issues such as Roe versus Wade and many other cases, presidential power. What can you say, based on his testimony, that would reassure Democrats or independents in this country who are concerned that this justice would not be independent?

SHAH: Well, let's be clear that what Democrats are seeking to do is something unprecedented or at least hasn't happened in at least three decades, which is to pin a judge down on cases that may come before them, may come before the Supreme Court. That's entirely inappropriate and would undermine the constitutional principle of judicial independence.

But what you can do is look at Judge Kavanaugh's record as a judge in the D.C. Court of Appeals. When he has appointed in 2006, he was unafraid to rule against the president who appointed him, President Bush. He was unafraid to take on - or support workers or support corporations or support whomever should be the winner based on the law and the facts given a specific case. He's going to take that approach to the Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: Raj Shah, it was a pleasure talking with you. Hope we get you back again to talk more - so much to discuss. Thanks very much.

SHAH: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's the White House principal deputy press secretary and deputy assistant to the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.