Former presidential adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman said Sunday she secretly recorded conversations she had in the White House, including her firing by chief of staff John Kelly in the high-security Situation Room. It was a highly unusual admission, which immediately drew fire from allies of the president.
‘Who in their right mind thinks it’s appropriate to secretly record the White House chief of staff in the Situation Room?’ Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel tweeted.
‘Secretly recording conversations in the Situation Room isn’t just wildly inappropriate, it’s a threat to our national security,’ McDaniel added. ‘If she broke federal law, she should be prosecuted.’
American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein had a blunter question: ‘What the hell was OMAROSA doing in the situation room?’
Parts of Manigault Newman’s conversation with Kelly were played on the air during an appearance on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to promote her new book, ‘Unhinged,’ which will be released Tuesday.
In it, she paints a damning picture of President Donald Trump, including claiming without evidence that tapes exist of him using the N-word as he filmed his ‘The Apprentice’ reality series, on which she was a contestant.
She said in the book that she had not personally heard the recording. But she told Chuck Todd on Sunday that, after the book had closed, she was able to hear a recording of Trump during a trip to Los Angeles.
‘I heard his voice as clear as you and I are sitting here,’ she said on the show.
But the other recording she discussed Sunday could prove equally explosive.
The Situation Room is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, and staff are not permitted to bring in cell phones or other recording devices.
Small lockers are positioned outside the door so aides can securely leave prohibited devices during critical meetings.
National security lawyer Bradley Moss told The Daily Beast on Sunday that ‘[p]rotocol absolutely dictates you place that phone into the lockers right outside the Situation Room. I’ve put my cell phones in similar lockers at government facilities. It’s non-negotiable.’
He said while White House visitors are screened, in-house staff operate on an honor system, which Omarosa ‘clearly violated … and it is clear she deliberately meant to do so.’
Zara Rahim, a former national spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton who now leads the communications team at Vogue magazine, said that ‘Omarosa in the situation room is such an alarming visual to me I can’t wrap my head around it. What the actual f*** is going on in the West Wing.’
Americans ‘should be alarmed at a few things including the fact that she was in the Situation Room AND had an unsecured device in a SCIF,’ she added. ‘My god.’
Nonpartisan analysts, too, was aghast.
”[I]t is clear across the board that there is no security culture at the WH [White House],’ tweeted Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor Juliette Kayyen.
‘It begins with Trump’s phone. That Omarosa did this is really not surprising. Security only as strong as leadership enforces.’
Kayyem is also a national security analyst for CNN.
In the recording played on air, and which Manigault Newman quotes in the book, Kelly can be heard saying she can look at her time at the White House as a year of ‘service to the nation’ and referring to potential ‘difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.’
Manigault Newman said she viewed the comment as a ‘threat’ and defended her decision to covertly record it and other White House conversations, describing it as a form of protection.
‘If I didn’t have these recordings, no one in America would believe me,’ she said.
The White House did not immediately respond to the tape, but President Trump on Saturday labeled his former communications aide a ‘lowlife.’
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also questioned Manigault Newman’s credibility in an interview Sunday on ABC’s ‘This Week.’
‘The first time I ever heard Omarosa suggest those awful things about this president are in this book,’ she said, noting Manigault Newman ‘is somebody who gave a glowing appraisal of Donald Trump the businessman, the star of the “The Apprentice,” the candidate and, indeed, the President of the United States.’
Conway said that, in her more than two years working with Trump, she has never heard him use a racial slur about anyone.
Manigault Newman had indeed been a staunch defender of the president for years, including pushing back, as the highest-profile African-American in the White House, on accusations that he was racist.
But Manigault Newman now says she was ‘used’ by Trump for years, calling him a ‘con’ who ‘has been masquerading as someone who is actually open to engaging with diverse communities’ and is ‘truly a racist.’
‘I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation,’ she said. ‘I had a blind spot where it came to Donald Trump.’