Sarah Huckabee Sanders 'Should Be Fired' for Tweeting the New York Times' Phone Number After Op-Ed: Bush Ethics Chief

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders's tweet stating that anyone seeking the identity of the senior administration official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times undermining President Donald Trump should contact the newspaper's opinion desk violates the First Amendment and federal ethics laws, according to two former White House ethics chiefs.

Sanders on Thursday, the morning after the Times published the op-ed without revealing the author because his or her "job would be jeopardized by its disclosure," tweeted a statement for those requesting the staffer's identity.

"The media's wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump. Stop," Sanders tweeted from her official @PressSec account.

"If you want to know who this gutless loser is, call the opinion desk of the failing NYT," she continued, and included the phone number. "They are the only ones complicit in this deceitful act. We stand united together and fully support our President Donald J. Trump."

Richard Painter, a chief ethics lawyer under former president George W. Bush, tweeted that Sanders was "misusing her official position" and that her post "is a direct affront to the First Amendment."

"She should be fired," Painter tweeted.

A press secretary who attacks a newspaper in this manner, and encourages rabid partisans to harass the newspaper, is misusing her official position. This is a direct affront to the First Amendment. She should be fired. But then again her boss does even worse. Disgusting.

— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) September 6, 2018

"I think she is using her official position to interfere with the freedom of the press," Painter told Newsweek Thursday. "Using an official Twitter page and putting out the number of The New York Times and saying everyone should call and harass The New York Times about this, I don't think that's an appropriate thing for the U.S. government to be doing."

Painter in April announced he would run as a Democrat "against Donald Trump and every one of his collaborators in the Republican Party" for the Senate seat in Minnesota vacated by Al Franken.

The former White House ethics chief added that Sanders's tweets threaten First Amendment rights more than Trump frequently name-calling "failing New York Times" because she disseminated the newspaper's phone number, and that the Times could possibly seek and be granted an injunction in federal court.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, fired, New York Times phone number
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to the media in front of the West Wing of the White House, in September. The White House press secretary “is using her official position to interfere with the freedom of the press,” a former White House ethics chief said. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Norm Eisen, the top ethics official under former President Barack Obama and chairman of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saw Sanders's tweet as a federal ethics violation.

"A government official inciting the public to flood the phones of a private corporation & media outlet with harassing calls—openly interfering with its work—is a violation of the prohibition on "Misuse of Position" in 5 CFR 2635.702," Eisen tweeted on Thursday. "Oh, the 1st Amendment is kinda relevant too."

Former ethics chiefs and government watchdog groups have previously alleged that the president and several of his administration officials including Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, and first daughter Ivanka Trump have violated ethics laws.