On the hunt for a betrayer, a 'volcanic' Trump lashes out

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, forced to contend with the possibility that a senior member of his administration, along with others, may be trying to undermine his authority, erupted in private on Wednesday, according to multiple aides and allies familiar with his thinking. They described his mood as "volcanic."

An anonymous opinion article published in The New York Times earlier in the day, which the newspaper said was written by a senior administration official, asserted that a handful of appointees, serving at the highest levels of the Trump administration, consider the president to be "amoral," and on the precipice of dangerous decisions that could put the country at risk.

The president publicly described the editorial as "gutless" as his press secretary berated the "coward" who, she suggested, should resign.

The article followed published excerpts from a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that included examples of Trump's own cabinet officials and senior aides balking at his orders, defying his commands and privately disparaging him to others.

The one-two punch comes as the FBI's investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, heats up.

Over the summer, the president's former campaign chairman was convicted, his former lawyer pleaded guilty, the chief financial officer of his private company was granted immunity and a dozen Russian intelligence officers were indicted — all stemming from an investigation into whether Trump's presidential campaign conspired with Russia. Trump is also the subject of a separate criminal investigation into whether he obstructed justice.

The president has refused to be interviewed by the special counsel, though people familiar with his legal strategy are hopeful he may be able to answer a limited number of written questions related to the Russia probe.

On Wednesday, those close to the president said he was enraged by both the book and the anonymous opinion piece, and one senior administration official expressed anger at the "betrayal" by an unnamed colleague.

Some close to the president speculated the story could add fuel to the president's ongoing battle with the media.

Trump is "not just furious with the person (who wrote it) but furious The Times would run an unsigned op-ed," said one person close to the White House.

After staffers huddled behind closed doors in the minutes after the op-ed article was posted, strategizing a response, the president himself suggested on Twitter Wednesday that the author had committed treason. He then seemed to suggest that it was a fake.

Echoing a sentiment shared by a person familiar with the president's thinking, a former Trump aide suggested the op-ed was an attempted "coup."

"This is a coup. It's an administrative coup, a soft coup, a kooky coup, whatever you want to think," Michael Caputo told CNN.

White House officials, mounting a response reflecting intense anger at the article, said they did not know who wrote it. But finger-pointing was already underway, with questions about just how "senior" this official ultimately is. The New York Times did not respond to questions about how it characterized the op-ed's author.

A source familiar with the thinking inside the White House described the mood late Wednesday as one of closing ranks. "We're in this together and we're focused on the policy and the political travel that the president has coming up," the person said. "It's serious work that we're doing." ‎

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Donald and Melania Trump through the years
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Donald and Melania Trump through the years
Real estate magnate Donald Trump (L) and his girlfriend Melania Knauss leave Hollinger International's annual meeting at the Metropolitan Club in New York on May 22, 2003. Hollinger publishes The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers. REUTERS/Peter Morgan PM/ME
Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood, California, February 29, 2004. REUTERS/Ethan Miller REUTERS EM/AS
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump and his friend Melania Knauss pose for photographers as they arrive at the New York premiere of Star Wars Episode I: "The Phantom Menace," May 16. JC/SV/AA
From left, Billy Crystal, host of the 76th annual Academy Awards, his wife Janice Goldfinger, Melania Knauss and her boyfriend Donald Trump, pose together as they leave the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood, California, early March 1, 2004. REUTERS/Ethan Miller EM
Developer Donald Trump (R) and his girlfriend Melania Knauss pose for photographers after the final show of "The Apprentice" April 15, 2004 in New York. Bill Rancic, a 32-year-old Internet entrepreneur from Chicago, edged out Kwame Jackson, a 29-year-old New Yorker and Harvard MBA, for the Trump-described "dream job of a lifetime" and its $250,000 salary. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen JC
Donald Trump's new bride, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, waves as they leave the Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church after their wedding in Palm Beach, Florida, January 22, 2005. REUTERS/Gary I Rothstein
Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs (R) accepts an award from the Rush Philanthropic Foundation for his efforts to support public education and dedication to youth and social activism, from Donald Trump and his wife Melania (L) at Trump's Trumps Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida on March 11, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Arnold MS
Donald Trump and his wife Melania Kanauss watch the Miami Heat play the New York Knicks in the first quarter of their NBA game in New York's Madison Square Garden, March 15, 2005. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS
Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania arrive at the Museum of Modern Art for a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in New York November 1, 2005. The Royals are on the first day of an eight-day visit to the U.S. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Donald Trump arrives with wife Melania at a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, November 1, 2005. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania (R) arrive at the Museum of Modern Art for a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in New York, November 1, 2005. The royals are on the first day of an eight-day visit to the U.S. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump and his wife Melania attend a Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Lakers NBA game on Christmas Day in Miami, Florida, December 25, 2005. REUTERS/Marc Serota
Donald Trump stands next to his wife Melania and their son Barron before he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles January 16, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello (UNITED STATES)
Real estate magnate and television personality Donald Trump and his wife Melania stand on the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the opening of the exhibition "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" in New York May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS)
Businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump and his wife Melania watch Rafael Nadal of Spain play against Tommy Robredo during their men's quarter-final match at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT TENNIS ENTERTAINMENT REAL ESTATE BUSINESS)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (2nd from L) watches with his wife Melania as Serena Williams of the U.S. plays against her sister and compatriot Venus Williams in their quarterfinals match at the U.S. Open Championships tennis tournament in New York, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania as he speaks at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as his wife Melania listens at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to an answer his wife Melania gives during an interview on NBC's 'Today' show in New York, U.S. April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Melania Trump gestures at her husband Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as they leave the stage, after she concluded her remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Melania Trump appears on stage after U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets his wife Melania onstage after the conclusion of his first debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Raedle/Pool
(L-R) Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump attend an official ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington U.S., October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cuts the ribbon at his new Trump International hotel in Washington, DC, U.S., October 26 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania Trump at a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina Florida, U.S. November 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican U.S. President-elect Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania take part in a Make America Great Again welcome concert in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania take part in a Make America Great Again welcome concert in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attend the Liberty Ball in honor of his inauguration in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet a marching band as they arrive at Trump International Golf club to watch the Super Bowl LI between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump hugs his wife Melania during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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White House officials have spent much of the summer hunkered down amid an increasingly intensive FBI investigation and a string of foreign policy challenges from North Korea to trade negotiations to a collapsing Iran strategy.

The August death of Sen. John McCain, eulogized as an American hero though he was personally loathed by Trump, also cast a shadow on the presidency in recent weeks, stirring up resentments fueled by the president's initial refusal to bestow some of the markers of honor and national grief on a lifelong public servant and former prisoner of war.

One person close to the president said a reference to McCain in Wednesday's anonymous opinion article was a particular point of irritation for the president.

A former administration official still close to the White House expressed concerns that the mounting scandals and divisions plaguing the president would hamper any remaining legislative agenda remaining in the first term.

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