WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find out who wrote an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times. He said they are looking into action against the Times itself.
“I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security,” Trump told reporters, according to a pool report.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday, Trump said, “we’re going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he’s talking about, also where he is right now.”
“Supposing I have a high-level national security, and he has got a clearance, we talked about clearances a lot recently, and he goes into a high-level meeting concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something,” he said. “I don’t want him in those meetings.”
He did not specify what type of action they may take against the Times.
“I’m looking at that right now,” he said.
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He has called the Times’ decision to publish the piece a “disgrace,” and at a rally on Thursday, he said in a Fox News interview that it was “virtually, you know, it’s treason, you could call it a lot of things.”
The op-ed author wrote that Trump administration officials were a check on the president’s erratic behavior, including some of his decisions on foreign policy and national security.
Legal experts say a Justice Department effort to try to track down the source of the op-ed could provoke a First Amendment showdown. Trump has in the past made legal threats against publishers and papers, including the Times, but has not followed through with an action.
“The New York Times has been in this fight before, and they have taken aggressive positions to protect that source relationship,” said Theresa House, who specializes in First Amendment and media law for Arnold & Porter in New York.
She said although the state of New York has a strong shield law, protecting reporters from revealing their sources, there is no such law at the federal level.
James Dao, the op-ed editor for the Times, said in the paper’s Daily podcast on Thursday, “There’s nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security.”
Trump continued to blast Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” as a “total fraud.” The book, set to be published on Tuesday, characterizes a White House atmosphere in which aides struggle to restrain Trump’s unstable behavior, according to excerpts that have been released.
“Our libel laws should be toughened up so you can’t do that,” Trump said. “Our libel laws are pathetic. Our libel laws should be toughened up so that if somebody writes things that are fraudulent and false, they get sued and they lose.”