Secret tapes. Nondisclosure agreements. A lot of name calling.
The revelations surrounding Omarosa Manigault Newman’s new memoir, and the ensuing fallout, are underscoring a level of dysfunction many now see as just part of life under President Donald Trump.
On Monday, the former senior aide revealed a recording she’d made of the President phoning her on the day after she was fired. Earlier, Manigault Newman released a tape of chief of staff John Kelly doing the firing in the White House Situation Room.
Neither contained outwardly embarrassing language. But the tapes’ mere existence confirmed a longstanding reality: in Trump’s White House, there are few norms or expectations of decorum that cannot be shattered.
Now, aides are wondering who else might be using a recording device to capture audio from private conversations. And they are girding for Manigault Newman to release more of her tapes, which she has teased at in a string of television interviews.
“I don’t know. I’m going to watch to see,” Manigault Newsman said Monday when asked on MSNBC whether she would make more of her recordings public. “I’m expecting that they’re going to retaliate and so I’m just going to stand back and wait.”
What is contained in the remainder of Manigault Newman’s tapes is a mystery, at least for now. The recordings she has released so far are shocking only because they were created by a White House employee; the content is enlightening but not scandalous.
Nevertheless, the tapes have only deepened a pre-existing sense of paranoia among Trump staffers, according to senior administration officials, fueling an underlying suspicion that everyone inside the West Wing is out for themselves. The White House has no way of knowing how many tapes Manigault Newman might have, the official said, even as they explore legal avenues for preventing their release and punishing her for making them. The official declined to specify what specific legal steps were being considered.
Several senior aides said Monday that they doubted Manigault Newman was the only person taping her conversations at work. Trump himself used the tactic in his life as a private businessman and the question of whether he’s taping his conversations in the Oval Office arose last year when he suggested there might be recordings of an encounter with former FBI Director James Comey (none ever materialized).
One administration official said Monday that there isn’t a belief in the White House that Manigault Newman poses a larger national security risk after taping her conversation with Kelly in the Situation Room since she wasn’t part of any classified or secret discussions of a national security nature during her time in the West Wing.
Aides are not supposed to bring personal electronic devices into the Situation Room, which in reality is a highly secure complex of conference rooms, and there are small lockers outside of the door where staffers place their phones. However, the practice operates on the honor system and advisers are not searched before entering.
Like taped conversations and Omarosa herself, nondisclosure agreements were a vestige of Trump’s former life that he brought to the West Wing and his campaign. Manigault Newman alleges in her book that Trump’s campaign offered her a $15,000 per month payment in exchange for signing a binding document saying she wouldn’t disclose information the President or his agents deemed confidential.
Other former West Wing staffers have landed in similarly paying gigs: Keith Schiller, Trump’s longtime bodyguard and one-time director of Oval Office operations, makes $15,000 per month advising the Republican National Committee on security arrangements for the 2020 GOP convention. It’s not known whether he signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of his hiring.
On Monday, Trump alleged Manigault Newman was already bound by an agreement not to speak about her time at the White House.
“Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement!” he wrote.
It’s not clear what agreement Trump was referring to. But people familiar with the documents signed by senior officials early in the administration previously told CNN the documents contain little legal underpinning and were devised as a way to placate a President intent on keeping his aides quiet.
Trump later hit back at a claim Manigault Newman made in a series of media interviews where she alleged the President used a racial slur on the set of “The Apprentice.”
“.@MarkBurnettTV called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa,” Trump tweeted, tagging the former executive producer of the show. “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have. She made it up. Look at her MANY recent quotes saying such wonderful and powerful things about me – a true Champion of Civil Rights – until she got fired. Omarosa had Zero credibility with the Media (they didn’t want interviews) when she worked in the White House. Now that she says bad about me, they will talk to her. Fake News!”
Trump’s White House has always amounted to an irregular workplace, sometimes proudly so. The President has brushed aside presidential norms and his advisers have touted his unconventional style as a breath of fresh air. On Monday, he acknowledged that a pitched battle between former reality television stars was not in many people’s definition of the job.
“While I know it’s ‘not presidential’ to take on a lowlife like Omarosa, and while I would rather not be doing so, this is a modern day form of communication and I know the Fake News Media will be working overtime to make even Wacky Omarosa look legitimate as possible,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sorry!”
Publicly, White House officials have looked to attack Manigault Newman’s character as they seek to knock down her most salacious accusations.
“The very idea a staff member would sneak a recording device into the White House Situation Room, shows a blatant disregard for our national security — and then to brag about it on national television further proves the lack of character and integrity of this disgruntled former White House employee,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Sunday.
But neither Sanders nor other White House officials provided an explanation for why Trump hired Manigault Newman in the first place to manage communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
Trump himself came the closest to an explanation on Monday morning, writing on Twitter that he’d heard his aide was performing poorly in her job and antagonizing others, but that he remained enamored by her then-unyielding support.
“When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me – until she got fired!” he wrote.