(CN) – President Donald Trump said Friday the Justice Department should launch an investigation into identify the writer of a bitingly critical New York Times op-ed, said to have been penned by a member of an administration “resistance” movement straining to thwart his most dangerous impulses.
Speaking with reporters as he traveled to campaign events in North and South Dakota Friday, Trump cited “national security” as the reason for such a probe, and he called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open the investigation.
He also said he is exploring bringing legal action against the newspaper over publication of the essay on Wednesday.
“Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security,” Trump said. If the person has a high-level security clearance, he said, “I don’t want him in those meetings.”
Trump’s comments are the latest test of the independence of his Justice Department, which is supposed to make investigative and charging decisions without political interference from the White House.
Separately, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said he too believes an investigation “may be appropriate.”
“Let’s assume it’s a person with a security clearance. If they feel writing this is appropriate, maybe they feel it would be appropriate to disclose national security secrets, too. That person should be found out and stopped,” Giuliani said.
No classified information appears to have been revealed by the author or leaked to the newspaper.
Trump has been enraged about the article ever since the Times published it on its website Wednesday afternoon. The op-ed depicts the president as blustering and stupid and members of his staff making an heroic effort to save the country from his extreme behavior and lack of understanding.
After ripping the piece at a press availability Wednesday, Trump unloaded on Twitter, claiming the source of the piece was “phony.”
“If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times, must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to the government at once!” Trump tweeted.
The president followed up the missive with a single question, “TREASON?”
On Thursday, during an interview with Fox News, the president against went on the offensive, telling the hosts he believes the author may not be a Republican or conservative but potentially a “deep state person who has been there for a long time.”
With such a wide circle of potential suspicion, administration officials have 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 Defense Jim Mattis denied authorship on a visit to India; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chimed in from American Samoa. In Washington, the claims of “not me” echoed from Vice President Pence’s office, from Energy Secretary Rick Perry, from Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman from Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and other Cabinet members.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the president’s remarks.
In the meantime, former President Barack Obama weighed in on the op-ed during a speech Friday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“The idea that everything will turn out okay because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the president’s orders, that is not a check. I am being serious here. That is not how our democracy is supposed to work,” he said.
Trump acknowledged on Friday afternoon he heard Obama’s speech, telling reporters he watched it but fell asleep.
“I’ve found he’s very good, very good for sleeping,” Trump said.
The president also criticized Obama during a fundraising event in Fargo, North Dakota Friday, saying if “[democrats] got in with their agenda in November almost two years ago” job numbers in the nation would have dropped steeply.
“This is not called a recovery, this is called a rocket ship,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.