White House Stands By Trump Call for DOJ Search for Op-ed Writer

Sanders also blasts media, DOJ and Woodward. But Kim Jong Un gets praise

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump was right to call for a Justice Department probe into the identify of an op-ed writer. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The White House on Monday doubled down on Donald Trump’s request for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start a federal manhunt for the senior administration official who anonymously penned an op-ed blasting the president.

During Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ first briefing in nearly three weeks, she criticized the media, Justice Department and FBI officials and Watergate legend Bob Woodward. But North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who Trump last Sept. 22 called a “madman” who is “starving or killing his people,” received praise.

Trump and some of his aides have not clearly stated just what law the anonymous author might have broken, and Sanders could not point to a single statute that might have been violated. Instead, she called the anonymous nature of the piece and the possibility that the individual is trying to “undermine” Trump and the executive branch “problematic.”

If the unknown author — the New York Times is not disclosing his or her name — is taking part in national security meetings, that is “certainly something the Justice Department should look into,” she said.

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Should Sessions bring criminal charges? “It would be up to them to make that determination,” Sanders said of DOJ officials.

When asked how the First Amendment would not protect the op-ed writer, Sanders told reporters the matter is “less about that” and more about “someone is trying to undermine … the elected president of the United States,” adding the author “shouldn’t be here.”

Meantime, in her first briefing in nearly 20 days, the top Trump spokeswoman also was asked about a Trump tweet suggesting Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York should not have been brought up on federal charges because both were expected to hold their seats in a year the House could flip to Democratic control.

“No one is above the law,” Sanders said when asked about that tweet. But she also said the president wants a “level playing field,” meaning some individuals inside the FBI and Justice Department should also be investigated.

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And on a foreign policy note, White House and North Korean officials have started talks about a second Trump-Kim summit. Though talks between their subordinates have stalled, Sanders tried to point to signs of progress.

For one, an annual North Korea military parade did not feature the normal display of nuclear missiles, she said, calling that a “sign of good faith.” And a recent letter from Kim to Trump “showed a commitment to continuing conversations,” she said.

Finally, Sanders would not rule out that the president might Woodward over his new book that paints a negative picture of the president and his White House.

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