Above, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz debating in 2016. Their bad blood turned up in "A Warning" by Anonymous. White House aides identify her as a Cruz ally.
By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations
April 15, 2020
As a longtime confidante of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Victoria Coates always seemed an uneasy fit for the Trump administration.
“Coates' experience with Cruz, who was a leading critic of Donald Trump during the 2016 primary, sets her apart from the rest of the newly installed NSC, which is comprised of retired Gen. Michael Flynn and many [other Trump campaign advisers],” the Washington Free Beacon reported after Coates was appointed to the National Security Council in January 2017.
Early on, some Trump advisers questioned her commitment. They pointed out that her longtime boss -- the presidential rival she was advising just months earlier -- had blasted his opponent as a fake conservative and “pathological liar” while refusing to endorse him at the GOP convention. Certainly, Cruz had his reasons: Among other provocations, Trump had implied, bizarrely, that Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But some of her new White House colleagues also questioned her national security credentials. They viewed Coates, a blogger and art historian, as under-qualified for the job.
Still, she vaulted to the No. 2 spot at the NSC after a series of promotions over three years at the White House agency – often with Cruz’s support.
Now she’s suspected of secretly betraying the president by leaking his private conversations and trashing him anonymously in a New York Times’ opinion piece and a 260-page tell-all book, while allegedly conspiring with other “Never-Trump” Republican officials to sabotage him and his anti-globalist “America First” agenda from inside the White House.
Coates has been transferred to the Energy Department after an 18-month internal investigation settled on her as the likely anti-Trump mole known as “Anonymous,” according to people with direct knowledge of the probe. She now awaits virtual exile to Saudi Arabia as a “special envoy.”
Main Story: Here's 'Anonymous,' Trump Aides Say, and How They Outed Her
Related: Coates' 'Linguistic Fingerprints’ Appear to Match 'Anonymous’
Coates has declined to personally deny the rumors herself, and would speak to RCI only off the record. But defenders insist she is not Anonymous.
What the record does show is that Coates’ sharp ascent in the Trump administration would not have been possible without the sponsorship of Cruz, who took a personal interest in promoting his former aide. The behind-the-scenes role he played in advancing Coates inside the Trump White House has not been told previously.
Cruz was the one who urged Trump to hire her in the first place. “She was pushed into the position by Cruz during the transition,” said a former NSC colleague who worked with Coates on Middle Eastern issues.
But nobody could point to any negative remarks she personally made against Trump that could disqualify her outright for a White House position, which is something the unidentified Trump official who wrote the best-selling book “A Warning" said helped her sneak in under the radar.
“Although a long list of highly experienced Republican leaders were de-facto barred from the incoming administration for being ‘Never-Trumpers,’ those who didn’t sign their names onto anti-Trump screeds, myself included, had a shot,” Anonymous revealed on page 25.
Cruz had seemed to patch things up with Trump since their nasty and personal primary fight, highlighted by Trump’s slurs against Cruz’s father and the senator’s wife. The rapprochement, for which Cruz took considerable criticism, helped suppress any red flags over his recommendation.
After Trump agreed to name Coates as a special assistant, his former nemesis Cruz issued a statement, gushing: “Although we will miss her greatly in our office, I’m thrilled that Dr. Coates will now play a leading role at President Trump’s NSC.”
Only, Cruz never really had to say goodbye. Through Coates, he was able to help shape White House foreign policy from the Senate, where he sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. He and his protege scored victories on key issues on their agenda, several sources said.
Topping their list was withdrawing from Obama’s Iran nuclear deal — one of the few Trump policies Anonymous supported in “A Warning,” though the author wants more done to “stop Iranian missiles.”
Thanks to Cruz’s sponsorship, Coates became a national security power player virtually overnight. After serving several months as an NSC spokeswoman, she was promoted to working with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Mideast point man, where they collaborated on another issue important to Cruz: recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the U.S. Embassy.
On the other hand, Cruz has been frustrated by some of Trump's foreign policy moves, and that frustration happens to be shared by the Trump official masked as Anonymous.
Cruz has faulted Trump for a number of foreign policy mistakes, or as Anonymous catalogs them, “terrible foreign policy choices.” For example, the senator knocked Trump's “precipitous” decision last year to pull U.S. troops from Syria, arguing it could encourage the return of ISIS and put Kurdish allies at risk. He also complained Trump’s gone too far in slapping China with tariffs, calling it a mistake that could hurt the economy and cost jobs.
While Coates has not publicly challenged Trump’s positions, the senior official who wrote “A Warning” echoes those exact same arguments made by Cruz.
Nonetheless, Cruz scored a major coup in swaying White House foreign policy last fall when he convinced newly appointed National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to see his way to elevating Coates to serve as his deputy. O’Brien is an old friend of Cruz, having advised his presidential campaign along with Coates.
“Last year, the senator came over to the NSC and lobbied hard for her promotion for more than two hours,” said an NSC official who asked not to be identified. “Next thing you know she’s in the West Wing.”
The Anonymous book came out the month after she was bumped up. Initially, at least, the just-promoted No. 2 security adviser to the president was the last one anyone suspected as the disloyal author.
Sources say it’s no coincidence that the author of that book tends to favor Cruz’s issues. At various points, the unidentified official sounds more like a Cruz adviser. Or campaign worker. In condemning the president, for example, Anonymous resurrects 2016 Cruz campaign talking points against Trump. On page 210, the author dredged up the insults Cruz hurled at Trump on the trail: “Sen. Ted Cruz lambasted him as a ‘narcissist’ and ‘utterly amoral.’”
Anonymous also resurrected and condemned Trump’s old mud-slinging against Ted Cruz’s father. White House sources don’t defend what Trump said in 2016, but they do see Anonymous’ fixation with it to be a tell – and perhaps something more.
In effect, they said, Cruz planted an agent of influence inside the Trump White House. Someone to help him guide the policies he couldn’t carry out as president -- and at the same time, secretly undermine the man who kept him out of the Oval Office.
“Ted Cruz is still bitter and very exposed on this [Anonymous scandal],” one NSC official said.
The senator happens to share the same book agent – Javelin’s Keith Urbahn – with Coates and Anonymous.
Cruz’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
A Republican congressional staffer who worked with Coates during the primary said that both Coates and Cruz took Trump’s barbs personally and still have not gotten over them.
“That bad blood spilled over into the White House,” said the staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Her vitriol in ‘Anonymous’ comes from the primaries. They were brutal.”
She noted how a Trump campaign surrogate pushed a National Enquirer story accusing Cruz of having an affair with a political operative, who denied it. This infuriated Coates, who had worked closely with the woman in question.
“Victoria was really affected by the smears,” the former congressional colleague said. “She holds a strong animus [against Trump] over that.”
Coates never really stopped collaborating with Cruz, say both White House and congressional sources. Her loyalty to the ambitious senator helps explain her alleged disloyalty to Trump.
“Basically, Victoria is a Cruz asset,” the former NSC colleague said.
He said Cruz also helped Coates transition from the White House to the Energy Department, which is run by his friend Dan Brouillette of Texas. Cruz personally endorsed Brouillette at his Senate confirmation hearing in November.
Cruz recently told the Texas press he plans to run for the White House again in 2024, which may explain his burying the hatchet with Trump, at least publicly.
“He’s bear-hugging Trump now to win over his voters for 2024,” the congressional staffer said.
Coates has her own ambitions, she added. Coates and her wealthy Pennsylvania family were one of the largest family contributors to the Cruz presidential campaign in 2015-2016. They gave $18,700, records show.
The confidante said Coates plans to hitch her wagon to Cruz again, and possibly ride into his administration as National Security Adviser or even Secretary of State.