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Trump, former aide clash over tapes of White House conversations

Updated August 13, 2018 - 5:40 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman engaged in mudslinging Monday over allegations contained in her upcoming book and tapes of secretly recorded conversations.

On “The Today Show” Monday morning, Manigault Newman played an audiotape of what she claimed was a phone conversation with Trump the day after Chief of Staff John Kelly fired her in December

“Omarosa, what’s going on?” Trump is heard asking. “I just saw in the news you’re thinking about leaving. What happened?”

A day earlier, on “Meet the Press,” Manigault Newman played a secretly recorded tape of Kelly firing her in the White House Situation Room. The tapes are part of a publicity blitz for Managault Newman’s memoir, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” which comes out Tuesday.

Trump struck back Monday on Twitter, calling Manigault Newman “wacky Omarosa” and dismissing the thrice-fired contestant on “The Apprentice” as a “lowlife” who would constantly miss meetings and was hated by other staffers.

“She was vicious, but not smart,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets, even as he acknowledged that it was “not presidential” to take her on.

The public feud dredges up two uncomfortable issues for Trump – his practice of hiring staff with dubious qualifications and his White House’s dearth of high-profile African Americans, which was exacerbated when Kelly fired Manigault Newman from her perch at the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Trump also has faced criticism for his recent put-downs about the intelligence of other well-known African Americans — basketball great LeBron James, CNN anchor Don Lemon and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Manigault Newman served as director of African-American outreach for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. At the time, she famously said, “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump.” She also defended Trump’s remarks about “some very fine people on both sides” after last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville after counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed.

Sunday, Manigault Newman told NBC’s Chuck Todd that she now realizes she was “complicit” in defending Trump and now regrets it.

“I didn’t need Omarosa to tell me” that Trump is a racist, said Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Maria Cardona.

“I don’t think Democrats are going to be using this because they don’t need to,” Cardona added. “I think it’s stupid when Donald Trump” responds to her “because he raises up her profile.”

The Situation Room where Manigault Newman recorded her conversation with Kelly is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, reserved for individuals with security clearances to absorb classified material.

“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,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement over the weekend.

National security attorney Mark S. Zaid said on Twitter that “thus far no reasonable prosecutable offense has been identified.” If the Trump administration tries to obtain an injunction to stop the release of more tapes, he said, it is likely to fail because of protections in the Supreme Court’s 1971 Pentagon Papers decision.

Brad Blakeman, an attorney who served on President George W. Bush’ senior staff, said he is not versed in this type of law, “But I would say this, I would find it very unusual if some laws were not violated.”

As for Manigault Newman’s taping of a phone conversation with Trump, “I worked for several presidents. I can never even fathom that happening,” Blakeman said.

Manigault Newman also told MSNBC that she believes Trump secretly has taped conversations in the White House.

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted, “Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement!” But it remains unclear if the administration can enforce the agreement.

Contact dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or (202)662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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