During Friday’s edition of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, host Bill Maher and his panel each gave a hypothesis as to who authored the anonymous New York Times op-ed allegedly written by a senior member of the Trump administration.
After thanking the op-ed author for their “service” and sharing his theory that White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly wrote it, Maher surmised that for Kelly, working for President Trump “has got to be worse than Iraq,” citing the fact that Kelly called his role as Chief of Staff the “worst job he ever had” in Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, a claim that Kelly denies.
Former Republican congressman Charlie Dent, now a CNN contributor, said that he believed Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats authored the piece while New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg said that although she liked the “Jon Huntsman theory,” referring to the United States Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, she added “I sort of have a feeling it’s going to be somebody whose name we’re all not super familiar with.” Maher did not like that implication, asking Goldberg “You think your paper is going to be that ballsy as to go this far out on the limb and then we look at it and go 'Who’s that?'”
Former Obama Campaign Strategist David Axelrod, also employed by CNN, had previously suggested that President Trump’s entire cabinet contributed to the op-ed: “I think it’s like Murder on the Orient Express, where everybody got to write one sentence. They’re all part of this.” Would Axelrod have taken it lightly if people used murder-the-president metaphors like this when he was working in the Obama White House?
This came not longer after Dent suggested “there’s a much smaller list of people who probably did not write that article,” implying that a large number of unhappy people work in the Trump administration.
A debate ensued about whether to regard the author of the op-ed as a hero or a coward. Axelrod definitely did not seem to regard the author as a hero, asking “What was the point? If your message is I’m going to stay inside and act as a guard rail against this crazy President, why poke the bear and make him crazier?” Goldberg seemed to agree, arguing that the piece did not have a clear purpose: “you can understand if somebody said I’m here to tell you it’s worse than you think and Congress needs to exercise its oversight function but that’s not really what he was saying. He was saying there’s people here who have got things under control. So it might look pretty bad but you know, you’ve still got deregulation and we’re handling things.”
Dent tried to remain neutral, saying “I don’t think we should denounce or glorify this guy, I think the person’s just simply trying to reassure us that, yeah, it’s really bad but there are some of us here who, you know, are adults.” Dent later expressed gratitude that James Mattis serves as Secretary of Defense and that Coats serves as Director of National Intelligence, apparently seeing them as “adults” who have kept the administration from drifting off course.
The discussion about the Times op-ed ended with Maher alleging that President Trump threatens “rule of law and the end of democracy.” The panelists seemed to conquer. When Dent complained that President Trump “doesn’t stand up full throated in support of western values...independent judiciaries, democracies, free press, rule of law,” Axelrod replied: “He thinks all those things are for suckers and losers.”
While Maher may hope that more rogue Trump administration officials will bring upon the end of the Trump presidency, he probably still believes that a recession presents the best option for getting rid of the President. According to Maher, “either you get rid of Trump or you lose your democracy.” Getting rid of President Trump by any means necessary remains the goal for Maher and his colleagues in the liberal media, three of whom joined him on set Friday night. They have now put all their faith in the New York Times op-ed; hoping it will help make their task a lot easier.
Real Time With Bill Maher
BILL MAHER: Okay, so this anonymous?
CHARLIE DENT: Or however you say it.
MAHER: I know that’s not your…yeah, what’s going on there? We know he doesn’t do drugs, I wish he did. I mean, but what was that about?
CHARLIE DENT: Well, the bigger issue is, you know, there’s a much smaller list of people who probably did not write that article as opposed to people…
MAHER: But who’s your guess?
DENT: If I had to guess, somebody in the National Security establishment, I don’t want to get my friend in trouble but I will say Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence.
DAVID AXELROD: He’s your former friend, Dan Coats.
DENT: My former friend. He’s a great American.
MAHER: But whoever it is says that there’s lots of people who think the same way and could have written the same op-ed piece. So you think Dan Coats, who do you think?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: You know, I have a feeling…I like the Jon Huntsman theory although I sort of have a feeling it’s going to be somebody whose name we’re all not super familiar with.
AXELROD: Yeah, I think it’s Murder on the Orient…
MAHER: Really? Someone we’re not familiar with? You think your paper is going to be that ballsy as to go this far out on the limb and then we look at it and go who’s that?
GOLDBERG: Well, look…I think that, you know, John Kelly’s second-in-command is a high level person. Right? The staff secretary’s a high-level person. So there’s a lot of people who kind of aren’t in the news all the time but are still by any measure senior government officials.
AXELROD: I think it’s like Murder on the Orient Express where everybody got to write one sentence. They are all part of this.
MAHER: I think it’s General Kelly. I do. First of all, I think the McCain funeral was the last straw for a lot of people. And he’s the kind of guy who, I mean, look, he’s not been happy for a very long time like I said in the monologue. The list of people who have called the President an idiot, it would be harder to find one who didn’t and Kelly has been in there, I think in the Woodward book, he says something like we are in crazy town. There is no point to even trying to talk to him, he doesn’t understand anything. I just think he’s got the balls to do this. Well that’s another question…do you think this is heroic or do you think this is cowardly?
AXELROD: No, you know what, my question is what was the point? What was the point? If your message is I’m going to stay inside and act as a guard rail against this crazy President, why poke the bear and make him crazier? I mean, either come out and say, you know, declare who you are…
GOLDBERG: And it also, it wasn’t a call to arms. Right? I mean, you can understand if somebody said I’m here to tell you it’s worse than you think and Congress needs to exercise its oversight function but that’s not really what he was saying. He was saying there’s people here who have got things under control. So it might look pretty bad but you know, you’ve still got deregulation and we’re handling things.
AXELROD: Or give me dispensation for continuing to work for this wacko doodle.
GOLDBERG: Right, or kind of, yeah, or like go easy, go easy on me on the Mar-a-Lago trials.
DENT: I don’t think we should denounce or glorify this guy, I think the person’s just simply trying to reassure us that, yeah, it’s really bad but there are some of us here who, you know, are adults. I think that’s what he was trying to do, I hope this is truly a senior administration official. I mean, it would be terrible for The New York Times if it were somebody we’ve never heard of.
AXELROD: Did you find it calming? I didn’t find it calming.
DENT: Not really.
MAHER: But you know what, my outlier opinion on this, is this person, I would like to say to them, thank you for your service, seriously, let me explain why. The United States has made the same mistake overseas so many times. We take out Saddam Hussein or somebody we don’t like and don’t think about what comes next. Yeah, Saddam Hussein was terrible, what came next? ISIS. What comes next if these people who are preventing him from doing really crazy things go. I think General Kelly would love to leave. This has got to be worse than Iraq. He said it, he said this is the worst job I’ve ever had, he was in Fallujah.
GOLDBERG: The other side of that is that all of these people, Gary Cohn, all of them, who sort of shored things up and made sure that for all of the President’s manifest incompetence, kind of, the trains run on time. It has, I think, given everybody else a sense of false confidence or a sense that this whole thing is more sustainable than it seems. Right? Because people will say to you all the time right after the election I really thought that everything was going to fall apart but now, you know, it seems chaotic but everything is sort of holding together. And as it holds together, the President amasses more and more power. He gets more judges, he gets more loyalists. And so, you know, if this had come out, say, three weeks into the administration Congress might’ve been more willing to do something. He’s already just, you know, sort of, been able to build his power base even if it’s fragile, and that, and so, you know, at a certain point they’re not…they might think that they are protecting us but really they are just kind of squeezing through a few of their Republican policy priorities and making it seem as if things are okay when they’re not.
MAHER: But Republican priorities, policy wise. We have lived through that before and we can survive those things. You were a part of them, quite frankly. That’s not the case with rule of law and the end of democracy and all that other stuff that he threatens in a way that we have never seen before. That is what is so unique. And if these guys are stopping that…
GOLDBERG: But they’re not stopping it, or maybe they’re stopping some of it but they’re…
DENT: People like Mattis, I’m glad that Jim Mattis is at the Department of Defense. Good for the country, I’m glad Coats is at the National…
MAHER: I wish Rex Tillerson was still there. I never thought I’d be saying where’s the guy from Exxon?
DENT: The challenge that we’ve…The challenge…
MAHER: Jesus, doesn’t Chevron have someone who can step into that administration?
DENT: The challenge though, we’ve never had a President who doesn’t stand up full throated in support of western values.
DENT: Independent judiciaries, judiciaries, democracies, free press, rule of law, and that’s the job of the President.
AXELROD: Yeah, he thinks all those things are for suckers and losers, honestly…he thinks that that’s for suckers and losers.
DENT: Putin wants to undermine the order, we created it, we benefited by it. This is why it’s so frustrating to me.