WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump on Thursday called on The New York Times (NYT) to reveal the name of the "coward" who wrote an explosive, anonymous article that has plunged his presidency into its worst crisis yet.
The White House has been convulsed by a fevered hunt for the senior official who declared, in an unsigned article for NYT published on Wednesday, that "unsung heroes" were quietly working within the administration to frustrate the President's "worst inclinations".
"Nobody knows who the hell he is, or she," Mr Trump told supporters at a rally in Billings, Montana, adding: "Unidentified deep state operatives who defy voters to push their secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself."
Mr Trump also said at the rally: "Look at that thing today. Is it subversion? Is it treason? The good thing about that is that even liberals that hate me think that is a terrible thing they did."
Invoking national security concerns, Mr Trump said the paper should publish the official's name, before encouraging reporters to investigate the matter. "That would be a good scoop!" he said.
On the Internet and in Washington, a guessing game has raged over who the author might be, prompting nearly every Cabinet-ranked member of the government to deny being responsible.
Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats were among those who issued 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," Mr Pence's spokesman Jarrod Agen wrote on Twitter, referring to the opinion-editorial article. "Our office is above such amateur acts."
The op-ed followed the release of excerpts from a book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, who portrayed Mr Trump's White House as an out-of-control "crazy town".
Mr Trump responded with a furious volley of tweets that asked if the author had committed treason, while First Lady Melania Trump condemned the decision to publish.
"To the writer of the op-ed - you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions," she said.
Mr James Dao, who runs the Times' op-ed page, told CNN he received the article several days ago through an intermediary, but had spoken directly with its author.
In one eye-opening passage, the writer says Cabinet members initially considered invoking the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which provides for the President's removal if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office". They decided against the move, fearing a constitutional crisis, but Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren took to the airwaves on Thursday to revive the idea.
"If senior administration officials think the President of the United States is not able to do his job, then they should invoke the 25th Amendment," Ms Warren told CNN.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, has called for the article's author to be unmasked. "Are the investigative 'journalists' of The New York Times going to investigate themselves - who is the anonymous letter writer?" he tweeted ahead of the rally in Montana.
The Times acknowledged the "rare step" of publishing an anonymous editorial, but said the official's job would be jeopardised if he or she was identified.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG