Politics & Policy

Victoria Coates Is Not ‘Anonymous’

President Donald Trump arrives during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, April 18, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)
It’s no help to the Trump administration to conduct a witch hunt against the wrong leaker.

We write in response to Paul Sperry’s recent RealClearInvestigations article contending that Victoria Coates is “Anonymous,” the author of a September 2018 New York Times op-ed lambasting Trump and later a bestselling book. Sperry’s sources — all of which are, ironically, anonymous — are pursuing the wrong target. The “evidence” they cite is flimsy and unpersuasive. Coates’s authorship has been denied on the record by the book’s agent and disputed by every named source who talked to Sperry, including people whose loyalty to Donald Trump is beyond question. The fact that this White House — so concerned with anonymous internal leaks — has continued to employ her in a sensitive and responsible position, negotiating an energy agreement with Saudi Arabia and Russia, suggests that not everyone in the administration’s senior ranks shares the view of Sperry’s unnamed sources.

As Coates’s former colleagues during her time writing for RedState, we add our own view of why they are barking up the wrong tree. We have not spoken with her about this controversy and speak only for ourselves, on the basis of having known Coates for years and having worked closely with her.

To begin with, writing the above-mentioned article and book would be out of character for the Victoria Coates we know, who has been tight-lipped about her service for this administration, and whom we have never known to “talk out of school,” even in private, in a negative way about any of her various employers. At RedState, we often had spirited internal debates about politics, policy, personnel, and the site’s positions. Coates was always the soul of discretion.

Sperry’s sources fault her for writing under a pseudonym, but several of the early RedState contributors did so. Coates was then working as an Ivy League art-history professor and, unsurprisingly, was initially concerned about reconciling this with a public profile as an outspoken conservative. The decision to switch to using her own name on the site was entirely her own. This is not the sort of thing that should get your loyalty questioned in the Trump White House.

Anonymous originally went to the New York Times and self-identifies as “Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” as the title of the op-ed phrased it, in language evoking the left-wing #Resistance. The op-ed concludes with a glowing ode to John McCain. The book describes McCain as “one of America’s last great statesmen.” Anonymous told a Reddit AMA:

If there are royalties from the sale of this book, I’ve pledged to donate them substantially to nonprofit organizations focused on government accountability and on supporting those who stand up for the truth in repressive regimes around the world. Here at home, I hope one of the recipients will be the White House Correspondents’ Association to help support a new generation of young reporters in a time when truth is under attack.

Neither sympathy for the Left nor an embrace of the Times or the White House press corps are at all characteristic of Coates. And she has never been any sort of fan of John McCain, to put it mildly. Few people who worked for Don Rumsfeld were.

Sperry’s sources complain that Coates gave money to Mitt Romney in 2012, but they neglect to note that Coates advised Romney’s opponent, Rick Perry, during the 2012 primaries and donated to Romney in the general election against Barack Obama. Donald Trump also supported Romney against Obama. Surely, this White House cannot be skeptical of everyone who was against Obama in 2012.

In perhaps the most far-fetched part of his argument, Sperry writes:

In February 2018, several months before the anonymous Times opinion piece appeared, a Reddit user posted an unusual question using the same “Academic Elephant” pseudonym Coates employed. “Could I be sued by the company I work for if I write an anonymous opinion piece for the local newspaper, if everything I say is true?” the poster asked, adding that “I’m reasonably certain that I’ll have support from my coworkers.”

Here is a fuller excerpt from the Reddit post, which Sperry omits:

I want to write an anonymous opinion piece to the local newspaper mostly so that I can light a fire under corporate’s ass. . . . Most of the things I would write about are more petty grievances, but nothing illegal. For one, they have a policy that they never give out raises. All employees make bare minimum wage, with the store manager making $15/hr. We have a mentally disabled employee who has been working here full time for 20 years, and the only “raise” he got was when minimum wage increased. No paid vacation time, no sick time. You are technically allowed to take one week off a year, but because it’s not paid for most people don’t. You are not allowed to shop at the store you work at, and no employee discount (it’s supposed to discourage theft). Speaking of, recently another location in the area had it’s [sic] entire staff fired due to mere suspicion of theft, so everyone is terrified right now. But then there are things that I am inclined to believe are OSHA violations: we haven’t had hot water in my building for two months now, and we regularly handle biological waste — both human and animal — with our bare hands (we are welcomed to use gloves, but we have to provide our own). We also have to lift and move heavy items, some weighing much more than 50lbs, without the aid of a forklift, or with lifting belts.

That does not sound much like the White House. Nor does it make any sense that Coates, a sophisticated woman who knows many lawyers (us included), would post this rambling diatribe seeking legal advice from Reddit.

A great deal of energy is expended in Sperry’s piece arguing that Anonymous shares intellectual influences and references with Coates. But many of these are broadly shared among educated conservatives: Reagan, Thatcher, Hayek, Tocqueville, Athenian democracy, the Founding Fathers, “first principles,” prominent American historians. A companion article complains that both use “SAT-level words.” One purported similarity is that Coates and Anonymous are both “committed to stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in order to protect Israel,” a stance that also happens to be the position of the Trump administration.

“Anonymous is a woman, the investigators deduced, noting the author’s disapproving remarks alleging a Trump habit of addressing accomplished female professionals as ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey.’” This is the sole basis on which Sperry hangs the contention that Anonymous is a woman. We would hope that a gentlemanly regard for treating accomplished women with respect is shared by at least some men within this White House.

A major focus of Sperry’s argument is that Coates and Anonymous are both represented by the same literary agent, Keith Urbahn, who worked with Coates when both were research assistants for Rumsfeld. But as Sperry notes, Urbahn represents a number of authors critical of Trump (including Jim Comey, John Bolton, and Marie Yovanovitch) and would be a natural choice to represent Anonymous. (Full disclosure: Urbahn also represents Erick Erickson, as well as any number of other conservative writers). Frankly, fingering a friend of Urbahn’s looks like an effort to pressure him into revealing the name of his client.

Sperry spends a good deal of space repeating vague speculations about Coates’s views of Trump, which cannot be verified due to the absence of any identified sources. The fact that she had advised Ted Cruz during the primaries was well known when the Trump administration hired her. Sperry complains that “there are no examples of her publicly praising the president,” which is perhaps a telling phrase, but one that misunderstands the discretion required to be an adviser on national security.

We understand why the Trump White House is so worried about anonymous internal leaks. No White House in memory has been subjected to so many hostile news stories claiming to be based on anonymous sources. But blaming the wrong person makes it harder, not easier, to stop the leaks. People inside the White House who are running anonymously to the media about Victoria Coates, perhaps as part of a bureaucratic turf war, are disserving this president.

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