WASHINGTON • Gutless. Cowardly. Amateur. Laughable.
Those were the words of choice as senior officials stepped forward one-by-one on Thursday to denounce the author of an anonymous New York Times opinion-editorial article claiming there is a "resistance" within the Trump administration - and to make sure the President knew they did not write it.
Yet, if the endless parade of denials was aimed at tamping down talk of an uprising, it may have had the opposite effect, propelling the story to new heights and seemingly delighting Democrats.
"It probably won't take long for us to find out who wrote it," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, as she responded to a question at her weekly news conference.
"The Vice-President - that was my first thought. Then Coats, Pompeo, they denied that they had written it," she added, referring to Mr Trump's Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of State. "I guess by process of elimination, it will come down to the butler."
The op-ed, published online on Wednesday, was written by a senior official in the Trump administration, according to the Times. Mr Trump himself erupted in anger, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on the newspaper to issue an apology.
STRING OF DENIALS
The Vice-President puts his name on his op-eds. The New York Times should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts.
VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE, speaking through a spokesman.
It is not mine.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
TREASURY SECRETARY STEVEN MNUCHIN
THREAT TO DEMOCRACY
Nobody knows who the hell he is, or she, but for the sake of our national security, The New York Times should publish his name at once. Unelected, deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
Amid frenzied speculation about who was hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, Vice-President Mike Pence was the first to assert that he had not penned the piece. "The Vice-President puts his name on his op-eds," Pence spokesman Jarrod Agen wrote in a morning tweet. "The New York Times should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts."
Speculation about Mr Pence had been rampant on social media and cable television because of the op-ed writer's use of "lodestar", an archaic word that the Vice-President has used in multiple speeches.
Mr Pence's denial opened the floodgates for other administration officials to follow suit. They included National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who issued his denial while travelling in India.
Some pundits had suggested that Mr Coats was a possible author in part because, at age 75, he is likely in his final government job.
However, Mr Coats pushed back in a statement, declaring that any speculation that the op-ed was written by him or his principal deputy Susan Gordon was "patently false".
Other Trump officials that stepped up to deny that they were responsible for the op-ed included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, who denied writing the piece in a statement tweeted by an embassy spokesman.
By midday, Ms Sanders had taken to Twitter to speak out once again, chiding the media for what she called a "wild obsession", and urging citizens to call the Times opinion desk if they wanted to learn the identity of a "gutless loser".
First Lady Melania Trump weighed in on the controversy as well, saying in a statement that if "a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words".
More than two dozen senior officials had disavowed the op-ed as of Thursday evening.