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In search of Trump’s Deep Throat

There hasn’t been such a Washington whodunit since the spring of 1974, when All the President’s Men revealed that Bob Woodward had relied for his Watergate reporting on a secret source inside the Nixon Administration. Now the question is: Who wrote the anonymous op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times?

Herewith the case for thinking that it’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. And yes, dear RNS readers, there’s a religion angle.

Before he joined the Trump Administration, Coats was a congressman and senator from Indiana. Along the way, he served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Germany, where he befriended soon-to-be chancellor Angela Merkel. As Director of National Intelligence, he has been the Administration’s most outspoken critic of Russia, most recently warning in July that the “red lights are blinking red again” on cyberattacks.

Did I mention that he and John McCain were buddies, and that, unlike his boss, he issued a statement praising McCain after he died?

What we know about the provenance of the op-ed comes from James Dao, the Times op-ed editor, in an interview on The Daily, the Times podcast, Thursday.

“It began with an intermediary, who I trust, and know well,” said Dao. “And they told me that there was this individual in the Trump Administration who was very interested in writing an op-ed.”

My surmise is that the intermediary was Michael Gerson, the former top speechwriter for President George W. Bush who is now a columnist for the Washington Post. Previously, Gerson had served as a speechwriter for Coats. Both are graduates of Wheaton College, the Illinois college that likes to style itself the “evangelical Harvard.”

Gerson has made himself into Trump’s most prominent evangelical critic. Column after column has assailed the President’s moral character and the concomitant moral culpability of the those who support him, not least his fellow evangelicals.

It hardly strains credulity to think that Gerson has stayed in close touch with Coats. Indeed, just as he once worked with Coats on his speeches, so he would likely have helped him with the op-ed.

The piece revolves around this central point:

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Shortly after Trump took office, Gerson described Trump as having “an amoral, counterpunching ethic.” Coincidence?

Here’s how never-Trump GOP insider Bill Kristol weighed the evidence in a tweet Thursday morning:

Coats (plus Gerson) fits this to a T.

As for the chain of evidence, after Bush was declared the president-elect at the end of 2000, Dao, then a Times Washington correspondent, co-authored an article about the pending selection of a secretary of Defense. Though he did not end up getting the job, Coats was a leading contender, and the article ends:

But Mr. Coats has his own network of supporters within the Bush camp. Mr. Cheney’s top Congressional aide, David J. Gribbin, was Mr. Coats’s chief of staff in the Senate. And Mr. Bush’s top speechwriter, Michael Gerson, was also a speechwriter for Mr. Coats.

Bottom line: Gerson approaches his old acquaintance Dao about the possibility of Coats doing an op-ed. Dao tells him to go for it. Coats and Gerson collaborate on the writing. The rest is history.

Coats has, unsurprisingly, denied being the author. In 1974, Mark Felt, the FBI associate director, denied being Deep Throat, ‘fessing up only 30 years later. I suspect the reveal won’t take as long this time.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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