By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — 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 drew immediate fire from allies of the president and national security experts.
Parts of her conversation with Kelly were played on the air when she appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to promote her new book, “Unhinged,” which will be released this week. The Associated Press independently listened to the recording of the conversation between Manigault Newman and Kelly, which she said was one of many she’d surreptitiously recorded for her own protection.
In her book, Manigault Newman 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 co-starred.
Manigault Newman said in the book that she had not personally heard the recording. But she told Chuck Todd on Sunday that she was later 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.
“Who in their right mind thinks it’s appropriate to secretly record the White House chief of staff in the Situation Room?” tweeted Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
In the recording, which Manigault Newman quotes extensively in the book, Kelly can be heard saying that he wants to talk with Manigault Newman about leaving the White House.
“It’s come to my attention over the last few months that there’s been some pretty, in my opinion, significant integrity issues related to you,” Kelly is heard saying, citing her use of government vehicles and “money issues and other things” that he compares to offenses that could lead to a court martial in the military.
“If we make this a friendly departure … you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation and then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation,” he goes on to tell Manigault Newman, adding that: “There are some serious legal issues that have been violated and you’re open to some legal action that we hope, we think we can control.”
Manigault Newman said she viewed the conversation as a “threat” and defended her decision to covertly record it and other White House conversations.
“If I didn’t have these recordings, no one in America would believe me,” she said.
The response from the White House was stinging. “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 Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
The Situation Room is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, where the nation’s most consequential foreign policy decisions are made, and staff are not permitted to bring in cellphones or other recording devices.
“I’ve never heard of a more serious breach of protocol,” said Ned Price, who served as spokesman of the National Security Council in the Obama administration. “Not only is it not typical, something like this is unprecedented.”
Price said there is no one checking staffers for devices at the door, but there is a sign outside the room making clear that electronic devices are prohibited.
“The Situation Room is the inner-most sanctum of a secure campus,” he said, describing the breach as part of a culture of disregarding security protocols in the Trump White House. He also questioned why Kelly would ever choose to have such a meeting there.
The White House had previously tried to discredit the book, with Sanders calling it “riddled with lies and false accusations.” Trump on Saturday labeled Manigault Newman a “lowlife.”
Katrina Pierson, an adviser to Trump’s re-election campaign who served as a spokeswoman for his 2016 campaign, said she had never heard Trump use the kind of derogatory language Manigault Newman describes. She said in a statement that she feels “pity for Omarosa as she embarrasses herself by creating salacious lies and distortions just to try to be relevant and enrich herself by selling books at the expense of the truth. ‘Unhinged,’ indeed.”
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.”
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, 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.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Hope Yen contributed to this report from Washington.