New York, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — The coup of publishing a column by an anonymous Trump administration official bashing the boss could backfire on The New York Times if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person, or if the newspaper's own reporters solve the puzzle.
Within hours of the essay appearing on the paper's website, the mystery of the writer's identity began to rival the Watergate-era hunt for "Deep Throat" in Washington, and a parade of Trump team members issued statements Thursday saying, in effect, "it's not me."
The Times' only clue was calling the author a "senior administration official." James Dao, the newspaper's op-ed editor, said in the Times' daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was "totally confident" in the identity.
How large the pool of "senior administration officials" is in Washington is a matter of interpretation.
It's a term used loosely around the White House. Press offices often release statements or offer background briefings and ask that the information be attributed to a senior administration official.
The Partnership for Public Services tracks approximately 700 senior positions in government, ones that require Senate confirmation. Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on the federal bureaucracy, said about 50 people could have legitimately written the column — probably someone in a political position appointed by President Donald Trump.
He suspects the author is in either a Cabinet-level or deputy secretary position who frequently visits the White House or someone who works in the maze of offices in the West Wing. Most of the Cabinet has denied authorship.
Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, meanwhile, puts the number of true senior administration officials at around 100, defining them as high up in the government and having regular interaction with the White House or the president himself.
Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that, based on her experience with the Times and sourcing, "this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you'd expect."
That would be a problem for the Times, partly through no fault of its own, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The column attracted so much attention — as much for its existence as for what it actually said — that it raised the expectation that the author is someone powerful, she said.
If the person is not among the 20 top people in the administration, "the Times just gets creamed," said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and now a University of Maryland journalism instructor. "And I think it gets held against them in the biggest possible way. I have enough respect for the Times to believe that they wouldn't hold themselves up to that."
It would look like the Times was trying to stir the pot if it were not a high-level person, said Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, told Todd on MSNBC that if the author had come to the Post it would provoke a serious discussion, because the newspaper has not in the past run anonymous op-ed columns. She said no one approached the Post to hawk the column.
"When you give someone anonymity on this, you are putting your credibility on the line," Marcus said.
News organizations have different standards for using information from unnamed sources. Frequently, they try to give some indication of why the person would be in a position to know something — the senior administration official, for example — and why anonymity was granted. In this case, the newspaper considered that the person's job would clearly be at risk and that the person could even be physically threatened, Dao said.
He did not see much difference in the use of anonymity in news and opinion pages.
The Times has long been a target of Trump's vitriol. He criticized the newspaper for printing the column and said the Times should reveal its source for reasons of national security. In an interview Thursday with Fox News, Trump said, "What they've done is virtually, you know, it's treason, you could call it a lot of things."
Dao said, "There's nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security."
The newspaper maintains a strict policy of separation between its news and opinion side, and the decision to publish the column without identifying the author was made by Dao and his boss, Editorial Page Editor James Bennet, in consultation with Publisher A.G. Sulzberger. The paper's executive editor, Dean Baquet, is responsible for the news side and was not part of the decision.
Few people at the paper know the writer's identity, Dao said, and he could not see any circumstances under which it would be divulged.
The Times' own news story about the column said the author's identity is "known to the Times' editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House."
Trump, in a tweet Thursday evening, posed the question: "Are the investigative 'journalists' of the New York Times going to investigate themselves - who is the anonymous letter writer?"
Indeed, like hundreds of other reporters in Washington, the Times' news staff is trying to find out the writer's name. If the Times learns the identity, it could raise serious questions about the newspaper's ability to protect a confidential source among people who don't know — or don't believe — that one part of the newspaper will keep important information away from another.
"You could write a novel about this," said Jamieson, author of the upcoming "Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President." ''If they engage in successful journalism, at some level they discredit themselves."
Washington, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — One after another, President Donald Trump's top lieutenants stepped forward Thursday to declare, "Not me."
They lined up to deny writing an incendiary New York Times opinion piece that was purportedly submitted by a member of an administration "resistance" movement straining to thwart Trump's most dangerous impulses.
By email, by tweet and on camera, the denials paraded in from Cabinet-level officials — and even Vice President Mike Pence — apparently crafted for an audience of one, seated in the Oval Office. Senior officials in key national security and economic policy roles charged the article's writer with cowardice, disloyalty and acting against America's interests in harsh terms that mimicked the president's own words.
Trump was incensed about the column, calling around to confidants to vent about the author, solicit guesses as to his or her identity and fume that a "deep state" within the administration was conspiring against him. He ordered aides to unmask the writer, and issued an extraordinary demand that the newspaper reveal the author to the government.
In an interview Thursday with Fox News, Trump said it was unfair for the person to pen the editorial anonymously because there's no way to discredit it.
He suggested it "may not be a Republican, it may not be a conservative, it may be a deep state person who has been there for a long time."
As striking as the essay was the long list of officials who plausibly could have been its author. Many have privately shared some of the article's same concerns about Trump with colleagues, friends and reporters.
With such a wide circle of potential suspicion, Trump's men and women felt they had no choice but to speak out. The denials and condemnations came in from far and wide: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis denied authorship on a visit to India; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chimed in from American Samoa. In Washington, the claims of "not me" echoed from Vice President Pence's office, from Energy Secretary Rick Perry, from Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman from Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and other Cabinet members.
The author professed to be a member of that same inner circle. So could the denials be trusted? There was no surefire way to know, and that only deepened the president's frustrations.
On Twitter, Trump charged "The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy - & they don't know what to do."
White House officials did not respond to requests to elaborate on Trump's call for the writer to be turned over to the government or on the unsupported national security grounds of his demand. Some who agreed with the writer's points suggested the president's reaction actually confirmed the author's concerns.
Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, suggested that it "would be appropriate" for Trump to ask for a formal investigation into the identity of the op-ed author.
"Let's assume it's a person with a security clearance. If they feel writing this is appropriate, maybe they feel it would be appropriate to disclose national security secrets, too. That person should be found out and stopped," Giuliani said.
As the initial scramble to unmask the writer proved fruitless, attention turned to the questions the article raised, which have been whispered in Washington for more than a year: Is Trump truly in charge, and could a divided executive branch pose a danger to the country?
Former CIA Director John Brennan, a fierce Trump critic, called the op-ed "active insubordination ... born out of loyalty to the country."
"This is not sustainable to have an executive branch where individuals are not following the orders of the chief executive," Brennan told NBC's "Today" show. "I don't know how Donald Trump is going to react to this. A wounded lion is a very dangerous animal, and I think Donald Trump is wounded."
The anonymous author, claiming to be part of the resistance "working diligently from within" the administration, said, "Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."
"It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room," the author continued. "We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't."
First lady Melania Trump issued a statement backing her husband. She praised the free press as "important to our democracy" but assailed the writer, saying, "You are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions."
The Beltway guessing game seeped into the White House, as current and former staffers traded calls and texts trying to figure out who could have written the piece, some turning to reporters and asking them for clues.
In a rare step, Pence's communications director Jarrod Agen tweeted early Thursday that "The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds. The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts."
With many prominent administration members delivering on-the-record denials, the focus could now fall on other senior aides to do the same, with questions raised about those who stay silent.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to head off reporters' inquiries of Trump officials, tweeting that the questions should be aimed at the Times, which she said was "complicit in this deceitful act."
The anonymous author wrote that where Trump has had successes, they have come "despite — not because of — the president's leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective."
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he did not know of any role Congress would have to investigate, though Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Trump ally, said the legislative body could take part.
"Nothing in this town stays secret forever, and so ultimately I do think we will find out who is the author," he said.
The writer said Trump aides are aware of the president's faults and "many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them."
Burt Reynolds, the handsome film and television star known for his acclaimed performances in "Deliverance" and "Boogie Nights," commercial hits such as "Smokey and the Bandit" and for an active off-screen love life which included relationships with Loni Anderson and Sally Field, has died at age 82.
In a statement, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, called his death Thursday "totally unexpected," although she acknowledged he had health issues.
"He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tail bone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that's who he was."
Hess noted her uncle's kindness and generosity, and thanked "all of his amazing fans who have always supported and cheered him on, through all of the hills and valleys of his life and career."
The mustached, smirking Reynolds inspired a wide range of responses over his long, erratic career: critical acclaim and critical scorn, popular success and box office bombs. Reynolds made scores of movies, ranging from lightweight fare such as the hits "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit" to more serious films like "The Longest Yard" and "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing."
He received some of the film world's highest and lowest honors. He was nominated for an Oscar for "Boogie Nights," the Paul Thomas Anderson film about the pornography industry; won an Emmy for the TV series "Evening Shade," and was praised for his starring role in "Deliverance."
But he also was a frequent nominee for the Razzie, the tongue-in-cheek award for Hollywood's worst performance, and his personal life provided ongoing drama, particularly after an acrimonious divorce from Anderson in 1995. He had a troubled marriage to Judy Carne, a romance with Dinah Shore and a relationship with Field damaged by his acknowledged jealousy of her success.
Through it all he presented a genial persona, often the first to make fun of his own conflicted image.
"My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack," he told The Associated Press in 2001. "I've done over 100 films, and I'm the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomize longevity."
Born in Lansing, Michigan and raised in Florida, he was an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s. Reynolds appeared headed to the NFL until a knee injury and an automobile accident ended his chances. He dropped out of college and drifted to New York, where he worked as a dockhand, dance-hall bouncer, bodyguard and dish washer before returning to Florida in 1957 and enrolling in acting classes.
In the 1960s he made dozens of guest-star appearances on such TV shows as "Bonanza," ''The Twilight Zone" and "Perry Mason." His first film role came in 1961's "Angel Baby," and he followed it with numerous other mediocre movies, the kind, he liked to joke, that were shown in airplanes and prisons.
He did become famous enough to make frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show," leading to his most cherished film role and to his greatest folly.
In the early 1970s, director John Boorman was impressed by how confidently Reynolds handled himself when subbing for Carson as host of "The Tonight Show." Boorman thought he might be right for a film adaptation of James Dickey's novel "Deliverance."
Reynolds starred as Lewis Medlock, the intrepid leader of an ill-fated whitewater canoe trip. When he and three other Atlanta businessmen are ambushed by violent backwoodsmen, Reynolds must guide the group to safety.
"Deliverance" was an Oscar nominee for best picture and no film made him prouder. In his 2015 memoir "But Enough About Me," he wrote that "Deliverance" would be his choice could he put one of his movies in a time capsule.
"It proved I could act," he wrote.
But soon after filming was completed, he made a decision he never stopped regretting. While appearing on "The Tonight Show" with Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, he agreed to her invitation, offered during a commercial break, to be the first male centerfold for her magazine.
"I was flattered and intrigued," Reynolds wrote in his memoir. The April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan quickly sold more than 1 million copies, but turned his life into a "carnival." The centerfold would appear on T-shirts, panties and other merchandise and Reynolds began receiving obscene fan mail. Reynolds' performance in "Deliverance" was snubbed by the movie academy.
He did remain an A-list movie star, starring in such films as "Shamus," ''The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and three popular "Smokey and the Bandit" comedies, with co-stars including Field and Jackie Gleason.
In the 1980s, his career was nearly destroyed when false rumors surfaced that he was infected with the AIDS virus, in the height of hysteria over the disease. He had injured his jaw making the 1984 comedy "City Heat" with Clint Eastwood. Barely able to eat, he lost 50 pounds and suddenly looked emaciated.
"For two years I couldn't get a job," he told the AP in 1990. "I had to take five physicals to get a job. I had to take the pictures that were offered to me. I did action pictures because I was trying to prove that I was well."
He eventually regained his health, and in 1988 he married Anderson.
But the couple divorced in 1995, and their breakup was an embarrassing public spectacle, with the pair exchanging insults in print interviews and on television shows. Reynolds finally paid her a $2 million settlement and a vacation home to settle the divorce.
He rebounded once again, this time with the role of porn movie impresario Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights," which brought him some of his best reviews.
He won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor and received an Oscar nomination. Convinced he would win, he was devastated when the Oscar went to Robin Williams for "Good Willi Hunting."
"I once said that I'd rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar," he wrote in his memoir. "I lied."
Redwood City, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — A career criminal who authorities believe is the Gypsy Hill Killer faces trial Friday in Northern California for the murders of two young women four decades ago.
Law enforcement officials believe Rodney Halbower, 69, is the man who raped and killed six young women during a five-month period in 1976.
The serial killer was given his nickname when one of the bodies was found in the Gypsy Hills section of Pacifica, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
Opening statements start Friday in Redwood City, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
The killings of six young women in Northern California and Reno, Nevada, remained a mystery until 2014.
That's when DNA taken from cigarette butts saved from the scene of one of the killings in Reno led investigators to Halbower's prison cell in Oregon.
The San Mateo County district attorney's office charged Halbower with two of the six murders that occurred there, citing the cases' DNA evidence.
San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe called Halbower "a sociopathic serial killer" and said he is seeking to have Halbower sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Halbower's DNA was taken when he entered the Oregon prison in 1989 where he was serving 90 years for rape and attempted murder. Halbower's DNA was stored in a national database and matched the sample Reno cold case detectives scraped from the cigarette butt when they took another look at the Reno murder case in 2014.
A woman who confessed to murder spent 30 years in prison for the crime, but evidence mounted that she was mentally unfit and probably innocent.
It's likely Halbower would never have been linked to the five California murders and the killing of a University of Nevada nursing student in Reno had he not escaped from a Nevada prison in December 1986. He stole a car and made his way to Oregon, where — within days of his escape — he was arrested for rape and attempted murder.
An Oregon jury convicted Halbower and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in that state. First, he was returned to Nevada to finish that state's prison term.
When Nevada paroled him in 2013, he was sent back to Oregon, where prison officials took a DNA sample and submitted it to the national database investigators use to revive stalled investigations, which linked him to the Gypsy Hill murders.
Halbower was first transferred to the San Mateo County Jail in 2014 and his trial has been delayed several times. He has fired several of his public defenders and demanded to represent himself. The case was also delayed until a jury last year determined he was competent to stand trial. Judges have refused to let him serve as his own attorney. His current public defender, John Halley, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Court records show Halbower has spent the last 53 years in prison or on the lam after escaping.
A 1987 psychiatric report for an Oregon court concluded that Halbower was an intelligent man who suffered from "a severe personality disorder, with a propensity toward criminal behavior."
Halbower earned a high school diploma in prison, but he has had no other education, court records show. He does not appear to possess job skills, although he took drafting classes and dabbled with art behind bars in Michigan, Nevada and Oregon.
Still, that psychiatric report said Halbower "feels that he is pretty accomplished, that he should be able to teach, that he has a great many qualifications" and yearned to be a famous artist or a rock-and-roll star. The report concluded that Halbower's "life is replete with poor impulse control, narcissism and a certain grandiosity."
Washington, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Diplomats urged Venezuela on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid into the country to alleviate an economic crisis that has caused hundreds of thousands of desperate people to flee the crumbling oil state.
At a special meeting of the Organization of American States, member nations described the exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries as a migrant crisis "without precedent" in the Western Hemisphere.
Delegates from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the United States called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to accept food and medical supplies for his country's most vulnerable people and allow international aid groups to work in the country. Maduro has rejected multiple offers made by groups to deliver aid, painting it as part of a plan to destabilize his socialist government.
"The situation in Venezuela is not a natural disaster, but is entirely man made," said Alexis Ludwig, the deputy U.S. representative to the OAS. "President Maduro should unconditionally allow international food and medical assistance to reach the neediest in Venezuela."
According to the United Nations, more than 1.6 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since 2015 to escape severe shortages of food and medicine and inflation that the IMF estimates will reach 1 million percent this year. South American countries have said that outflow is putting a strain on their social services and that violence has broken out in some communities between Venezuelan migrants and residents who blame them for unemployment and crime.
OAS secretary general Luis Almagro called on Latin American countries to "share the burden" posed by Venezuelan immigration. He said they should grant legal status to Venezuelan migrants while working to integrate them socially and economically.
The regional group also recommended that member nations take measures aimed at preventing xenophobic attacks.
Member nations urged Venezuela to provide passports and other travel documents to Venezuelan citizens who want to leave. Thousands of Venezuelan migrants are currently travelling throughout South America without passports and keeping track of them has become difficult for authorities.
A Venezuelan diplomat at the meeting ignored these requests, saying that the discussion on Venezuela's migrant crisis is part of a U.S.-led plot to justify an invasion of his country.
"They want to depict us as a failed state, that has become a problem for the region," said Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS. "The OAS has become a forum of aggression toward Venezuela."
Venezuela said in April that it was quitting the OAS, but the process could take up to two years.
In June, OAS members approved a resolution saying that Maduro's re-election was plagued by irregularities and that it had broken with Venezuela's constitutional order.