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The Briefing: 'Anonymous' rocks Washington

WASHINGTON – Anonymous, whoever Anonymous is, told us a lot of things we already knew.

In fact, the byline-free "I am the resistance" op-ed in the New York Times reads like a cliche-ridden rewrite from Bob Woodward's book "Fear." It's more confirmation that the president of the United States is, as Woodward's book says ... well, Donald Trump: an impulsive, vindictive, not particularly knowledgeable man-child whom aides try to rescue from his own worst impulses.

But the now-infamous op-ed is much more than that. It's a mystery that poses grave moral questions for journalists, the author of the piece, Trump's Cabinet and Congress.

Such as:

Should the New York Times have run this piece?

Many journalists will tell you the Times had to run this piece. When a senior administration official says there is  a resistance trying to thwart the president from inside the White House, it is, obviously, huge news – even if the author is too cowardly to go public.

As Margaret Sullivan, the former Buffalo News editor who now serves as the Washington Post's media columnist, wrote, "The decision to publish the piece wasn’t unreasonable. And was probably almost irresistible, in this attention-grabbing age."

The former public editor of the New York Times, Sullivan also noted that James Dao, the Williamsville South High School native who serves as the Times' op-ed editor, and his colleagues no doubt vetted the piece thoroughly and thought through the ramifications of running it.

One of those ramifications, Sullivan noted, is that it puts Times reporters in a tough spot. The editorial page – which operates as a different universe from the reporters – made a guarantee of anonymity. But now, of course, the Times reporters are certainly going to want to break a big story of their own, namely: Who is this "Anonymous," anyway?

Should 'Anonymous' have written this?

The overwhelming conclusion among the chattering classes in Washington is no, this should never have been written as an anonymous piece.

"If you believe that Trump does not have the judgment and temperament for office — not a difficult conclusion to draw — this is a win of a sort," wrote David A. Graham of the Atlantic. "Yet the actions described in the book and in the op-ed are extremely worrying, and amount to a soft coup against the president."

As such, the op-ed serves as unintended evidence of Trump's theory that a "deep state" of government insiders wants defeat his reform efforts. For that reason, this piece is likely to win few converts among Trump's supporters and may even undermine the author's intent of proving how dangerous Trump supposedly is.

What's more, Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog noted on Twitter that the author could have taken a much braver, and ultimately more effective, approach.

"I have no respect for someone who would say these things – of whose truth I have no doubt – in an anonymous op-ed, rather than in a public resignation letter copied to the House Judiciary Committee," he tweeted.

What should Trump's cabinet do?

Perhaps the most striking passage of the op-ed reads as follows:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Whoa. This cowardly author tells us that Cabinet secretaries contemplated doing something that has never been done before. Under the 25th Amendment, the Cabinet or Congress can, by majority vote, remove a president who "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

Imagine that. Imagine how this combustible president would react to being dragged out of office based on an obscure constitutional provision that few had ever even heard of before he got elected. Imagine how Trump's supporters would react.

It would be ugly. It could even get violent.

And there's a better way.

If Trump's Cabinet secretaries and other aides think he can't handle the job, they should say so publicly. All of them who think that should be willing to testify to it under oath – which leads to the most vexing question of all.

What should Congress do?

This question is vexing only because this Congress has shown little ability to do much of anything, especially when it comes to keeping a close eye on the Trump administration.

Only the boldest of the bold do as Sen. Bob Corker, a retiring Tennessee Republican, did on Thursday. He said of the anonymous op-ed: "This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one ... I understand this is the case and that’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the President to stay."

This is the boldest of the bold? Really?

Ezra Klein of Vox sounds ready to throw up his hands, or maybe even throw up, in frustration.

"Corker’s statement was meant to be a damning indictment of Trump, but it’s actually a damning indictment of Corker and his colleagues, who have done little to check Trump save complain to the press," Klein wrote. "They have known the situation was this bad since day one, and they have done nothing about it."

Congress has the power to do plenty. It can launch investigations, subpoena documents, hold hearings, call  administration officials to testify, and even impeach and convict the president and remove him from office if it proves necessary.

Yet the GOP Congress has done nothing. And that fact somehow brings to mind a cliche that, with an election coming up, might apply to congressional power as well as other human faculties.

Use it or lose it.

Happening today

The Labor Department releases its employment data for August...Republican lawmakers who favor an immigration crackdown hold a rally at the Capitol ... The Brookings Institution holds a discussion with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright about her book "Fascism: A Warning" ... U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss presides at the sentencing of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who last year pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI.

Good reads

In Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver argues that the insubordination under President Trump isn't treason – it's normal ... The New York Times profiles the Democrats who are trying to use the Brett Kavanaugh hearings as a Senate launching pad for a presidential bid ... Vanity Fair magazine details the DeVos family and its 40-year effort to get government to run more like a business ... Bloomberg links the death of local news to the death of small towns ... And the Washington Post details the damage done by a plague that has, thankfully, not yet overrun the streets of Buffalo: the plague of electronic scooters.

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