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Former Speechwriter For President George W. Bush Discusses 'NYT' Anonymous Op-Ed


The White House has pushed back on claims in an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times today, an op-ed calling President Trump adversarial, petty and ineffective. The writer is only described as a senior official in the Trump administration. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying this coward should do the right thing and resign. The op-ed describes efforts by officials within the administration working on a parallel track to the president to thwart what this person calls Trump's worst impulses.

David Frum worked in President George W. Bush's White House. He's now a senior editor for The Atlantic. He says this op-ed is more than the typical Washington leak. He joins us now. Welcome to this program.

DAVID FRUM: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: So you write today that, quote, "this is an overt defiance of presidential authority by the president's own appointees and that that's a constitutional crisis." What pushes it into that realm for you?

FRUM: Well, it's not the op-ed that's the crisis. The crisis is the op-ed's confirmation of information we know already that people working for the president habitually thwart his will and intentions. Impeachment is not a constitutional crisis. That's a constitutional mechanism. The 25th Amendment, which sidelines the president - that's not a constitutional crisis. That's also a mechanism.

But for senior officials to say to the president, thank you for your helpful input; we will certainly take it into account when making our decisions; see you later - that's a constitutional crisis. And it raises this problem. Everything the author says about President Trump is obviously true. We've known that for a while. But this op-ed and the way it is produced will make the problem worse.

CORNISH: In what way? I know President Trump posted a single-word tweet this evening. In all caps, he wrote the word treason with a question mark.

FRUM: Well, it will - that's an example of it. It will aggravate the president's paranoia. It will make the relatively normal, more patriotic, less corrupt members of the administration need to prove their loyalty. They will cling tighter to the president. You will see less of the behavior that the author praises, and you will see I think a purge. You will see people being pushed out. Everyone who's suspected of being a more or less normal kind of figure in the White House will have a question mark over them. And the people who are the abnormal figures - they will be empowered.

CORNISH: The writer of this op-ed clearly wants to be seen as a patriot, that they're doing good for the country. They write, it may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. What about this argument that if dissenters leave the White House, there won't be a barrier to destructive impulses from the Oval Office?

FRUM: Well, that's - there's a lot of truth to that point. But what has concerned me because we're now well into this administration - when the dissenters do leave the White House, they don't make their resignations count. We learned from Bob Woodward that Gary Cohn, the former chief economic adviser, would actually literally snatch papers off the president's desk to prevent him from signing disastrous measures. And the president was so addled that he would then completely forget about it.

Well, Gary Cohn - he's been out of office now for nearly a year. What - he groused apparently to Bob Woodward about this. What has he done? The art of resignation is either residing in loyalty to support the administration you're parting from or to make your resignation count. And the people who have left already have not made their resignations count.

CORNISH: It sounds like you agree with Sarah Sanders, though, that this person should resign.

FRUM: This person should resign and take half a dozen people with him. They should bring chapter and verse of what they are concerned about, and they should immediately present this material to Congress. And this Congress is supine and complicit, and there's not a lot to be expected from them - but to alert the country of the danger it is in. If you believe President Trump is the things that the author has said that President Trump is and what most of us see him to be, the answer is not to break the Constitution by trying to cut the president out of the government. It is to remove the president from the government.

CORNISH: David Frum - he's a senior editor at The Atlantic and author of the book "Trumpocracy." Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

FRUM: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.