‘Anonymous’ Revealed To Be a Figure of Limited Significance
The revelation that the New York Times op-ed writer and book author was Miles Taylor, a former DHS chief of staff, was panned Wednesday.
Miles Taylor, a former department of Homeland Security chief of staff who has built a profile in recent months in anti-Trump media, revealed Wednesday that he was so-called “Anonymous.”
“Issuing my critiques without attribution forced the president to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling,” Taylor said Wednesday. “I wanted the attention to be on the arguments themselves. At the time I asked, ‘What will he do when there is no person to attack, only an idea?’ We got the answer. He became unhinged.”
The former official penned an anonymous article in September 2018 while in government service. He attacked the president as broadly unfit. But the decision by the New YorkTimes, the most powerful and circulated paper in the United States, to publish the piece raised eyebrows, even at the time. The Times acknowledged the move was a “rare step.” And it set up a veritable manhunt within the administration to find the source of the article, which was unsuccessful.
“We have done so at the request of the author,” the Times explained then, in a disclosure. “A senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.”
Importantly, the Times identified Taylor as “a senior official in the Trump administration.”
The classification “senior administration official” is frequently used to veil sources in media reports, especially during the Trump administration — which leaks promiscuously — but is also rarely defined, leaving the reader to do considerable guesswork from outlet to outlet.
Taylor served three secretaries of Homeland Security: John Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen and acting secretary Chad Wolf, including the latter two as chief of staff. Taylor exited government in 2019.
Since then, he has revealed his dissatisfaction with the administration, and worked with the anti-Trump ad juggernaut the Lincoln Project, and endorsed Democratic challenger Joe Biden for president. Taylor alleges serious government malfeasance, starting at the top. “The California wildfires — he told us to stop giving money to people’s whose houses hard burned because politically it wasn’t a base for him,” Taylor said.
On Wednesday, Taylor revealed the broader apostasy.
He told the Times Michael D. Shear: “More than two years ago, I published an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times about Donald Trump’s perilous presidency, while I was serving under him. He responded with a short but telling tweet: ‘TREASON?’”
Taylor said: “Trump sees personal criticism as subversive.” In a subsequent book on the topic, “A Warning,” also published anonymously, Taylor wrote that “I have decided to publish this anonymously because this debate is not about me.”
The reality of Taylor’s identity was objected to by reporters from the Washington Post, Politicoand the Atlantic on Wednesday.Taylor has issued a longer statement to the Times and readers can view it here.
But Taylor and the Times were attacked along several lines Wednesday, notwithstanding the serious allegations he’s leveled at the president.
First, the decision to unveil his identity now, at this point, has attracted controversy. A.J. Delgado, a former Trump campaign official who is now sharply critical of the president, attacked the revelation as occurring too late: nearly 70 million Americans have already voted. Some may have voted one way if he voiced his objections openly earlier. But perhaps other voters thought he was someone more important.
Because second, many question the classification of Taylor by the Times as a senior official in the administration. Taylor’s opinion piece appeared during an administration in which Cabinet officials and senior political aides to the president were known to be regularly talking to the press with perhaps unprecedented frequency. But “Trump couldn’t pick this guy out a line-up,” Delgado contended. Taylor has appeared publicly at events where the president has spoken. But his lack of prominence during this period remains a sticking, to his critics, at least.
The frequent use in the original op-ed of the word “steady,” a favorite of then-secretary of Defense James Mattis, led to intrigue that the official was truly high up the chain. Such speculation undermined the retired general’s standing with the White House. Mattis has since denounced Trump, but he has done so openly and after his government service.
Third, Taylor did attack Trump on fitness grounds, but he did so in a conflationary way. He made policy objections. He cited John McCain, a known Trump rival. Trump “complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia,” Taylor wrote. “And he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken.”
Such lines of argument belie the fact that many renowned foreign policy experts are skepticalof a belligerently hawkish policy toward Moscow, (the considerable) controversy over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election aside.
Trump also openly campaigned on a more amicable relationship with Russia. He defeated other Republicans, most of whom were of Taylor’s view (he once worked for Vice President Dick Cheney). And such a policy was also attempted by the Obama administration early in its first term, and strenuously defended as the 44th president won re-election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the subject waded into murky behavior by the president’s entourage and but did not result in the president’s impeachment (a later scandal did) and removal.
In other words, a perspective on Russia that is straight out of the realist school of foreign policy has been ratified by three successive votes of the Electoral College. Americans may yet vote Trump’s challenger Joe Biden into power, in part out of concern over Trump and Russia, but Taylor’s contention came as he insisted he was “rising above politics.”
Fourth, many in the president’s base distrusted Taylor’s principal boss, Nielsen. Pressures from the immigration restrictionist right helped force her from office in April 2019. This story would have taken on a different connotation if it Taylor worked for an official Trump had a more stable relationship with, such as secretary of State Mike Pompeo or secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin.
Finally, it’s not exactly news that Trump has clashed heavily with his own officials over philosophy. Trump has shown that he favors putative personal loyalists over the necessarily like-minded. Defenders of the president volunteer that he has a “team of rivals” perspective, but it’s clearly frequently backfired.
In addition to Mattis, and Kelly (later chief of staff), former national security advisor John Bolton has also weighed in harshly against the president, saying he shouldn’t be re-elected. While Bolton attacks Trump’s character, he also intones against the president on policy grounds, signaling his disgust that he is not of the Reaganite mold. But Bolton has identified himself publicly from the start, has declined to collaborate with groups flamboyantly dedicated to the destruction of the president and was actually a senior administration official.