Fired or resigned?

Omarosa out at White House

12/29/2017, 12:20 p.m.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, who has resigned under duress from her public liaison job at the White House, is leaving true …
Stories swirl about Omarosa Manigault Newman’s departure from the Trump White House, where she was assistant to the president and director of communications in the White House Office of Public Liaison. Cheriss May

By Hazel Trice Edney

Omarosa Manigault Newman, who has resigned under duress from her public liaison job at the White House, is leaving true to form — amidst a cloud of controversy and with sparks flying. 

The White House confirmed her resignation effective Jan. 20. The official White House reason was that she is leaving to pursue “other opportunities.”

“Thank you Omarosa for your service! I wish you continued success,” President Trump tweeted about the Dec. 13 departure of Ms. Manigault Newman, who is best known by her first name since being a contestant 14 years ago on President Trump’s television reality show, “The Apprentice.” The two have been personal friends since then, and the president handpicked her to join his White House staff.

But the full circumstances surrounding her departure remain cloudy at best amid numerous reports that she actually was fired or forced to resign during a heated and cursing confrontation with retired Gen. John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff. She has conceded only that there was a tense conversation with Mr. Kelly in the White House Situation Room.

Since he took the post in July, Mr. Kelly had limited Ms. Manigault Newman’s access to the Oval Office, where she initially had the freedom to come and go.

During an interview on ABC News on Dec.14, the clearly angry Ms. Manigault Newman called the reports that she was fired “100 percent false.” She then added that “as the only African-American woman in this White House senior staff, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people.” She said when she gets to tell her story of what happened in the Trump White House, it will be “a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.”

Ms. Manigault Newman declined to comment for this reporting, citing the fact that she is still a White House employee. She said she was only allowed the interviews with ABC News.

Meanwhile, several black Republicans now claim that Ms. Manigault Newman blocked them from jobs in order to maintain her status as the “only African-American woman ... senior staff and assistant to the president” as she described herself in the ABC News interview. Her actual White House title is assistant to the president and director of communications in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

But her actual job description appears not to have been clearly defined. In interviews, several African-Americans blamed her for blocking black job applicants from opportunities within the Trump administration.

“I was blocked personally,” said Eugene Craig of Maryland. “Essentially, my file was pulled. The official excuse was that I wasn’t pro-Trump enough although I was the sitting chair of the Maryland Republican Party.”

Sources said loyalty was among the top considerations for key White House positions. Mr. Craig acknowledged that he was a “never Trumper” during the campaign. But he said he noticed that when the time came for consideration for jobs, white Republican “never Trumpers” were given consideration while African-Americans were not.

“The flood gates were opened, but Omarosa held all of us to a different standard. She had say over a lot of the black (people’s) résumés.”

Mr. Craig said during a January conference call with the Republican National Committee and Trump transition team held specifically for African-American activists and party loyalists, Ms. Manigault Newman “made us these promises that this would be the most diverse administration in history.”

She said she would help “wherever we wanted to go into government and to shoot our résumés over to her,” Mr. Craig recalled. “She said this administration had a goal of having 25 percent minority hiring. They wanted 25 percent of the workforce to be black and Hispanic ... So she positioned herself as the end all, be all for black things, for black people in the administration.”

But her promises didn’t materialize.

Ayshia Connors, former deputy director of African-American engagement at the RNC, agrees. She talked about an initiative by two organizations, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Students and Insight America that is headed by former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.

Hundreds, “probably thousands,” of résumés of qualified African-Americans “were ready and prepared to go into any administration, no matter who won the election,” said Ms. Connors, who is now a senior adviser to GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

“When President Trump got elected, all of those names were submitted and Omarosa literally trashed those names. Nobody got a call back. Nobody got an interview. Nobody was ever heard about again.

“People tried to go in,” she continued. “People were eager and willing to serve the president, willing to serve our country. But Omarosa didn’t want other black Republicans there. She wanted to be the big shot. She wanted to be the only one.”

Ms. Connors added that Kay Coles James, a former Virginia secretary of health and human resources under GOP Gov. George Allen and director of the federal Office of Personnel Management under former GOP President George W. Bush, received the same treatment.

Mrs. James also had served on the Trump transition team.

“She was willing and prepared to go back into government and to help the administration. But Omarosa was such a distraction and created so much drama and confusion that Mrs. James just decided not to engage anymore. That’s why you only saw Omarosa as a senior black Republican in the White House.”

In a brief interview with Mrs. James upon her appointment as president of the Heritage Foundation, Mrs. James was clear about why she did not work in the Trump White House.

“When Donald Trump said that he wanted to improve the urban areas and that he wanted to make the lives of minorities in this country better, I said, ‘Wow, if he wants to do that, I genuinely want to be a part of that.’ I was excited and hopeful about the opportunity,” she said.

“But that opportunity never really afforded itself. I am told that I was blocked ... I don’t have specifics about how that happened, but I was extremely disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to serve.”

Ms. Connors said the clearest evidence that Ms. Manigault Newman was not going to work with other black Republicans came in February, when Ms. Manigault Newman was in charge of pulling together the Black History Month program for President Trump.

“Credible Republicans such as Kay Coles James and J.C. Watts and Elroy Sailor tried to engage Omarosa,” she said. Instead, Ms. Manigault Newman put an event together that included her personal picks of African-Americans, including black Democrats, Ms. Connors said.

“She didn’t invite any of the prominent black Republicans. In fact, we had folks calling us from the White House saying, ‘Why aren’t your names on the list for this event?’ It was very evident from the beginning that she wasn’t going to work with us and that she was just going to do her own thing.”

Ms. Connors said the turning point came when a similar situation occurred with an event for Vice President Mike Pence was planned by black Republicans to be held at West Point. “That was another example of Omarosa using her position in the White House to block that event as well,” she said.

Sources willing to speak on the record in defense of Ms. Manigault Newman were difficult to find. High placed Republican sources said it is not possible for her to have made such decisions without oversight from the White House and most likely from President Trump himself.

Other Republican sources said Mrs. James was offered positions within the administration, but Ms. Manigault Newman fought against any African-American staff appointment that would be above her own.

Others said black Republicans seeking employment in the new administration may be been rejected because they had left the RNC in protest of their treatment by then RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. When Mr. Priebus became President Trump’s first chief of staff, they said, Mr. Priebus may have been averse to their hiring, one source said.

“At the end of the day … Omarosa is not a conservative. She is not a Republican. She is simply an opportunist,” said Christopher Metzler, a member of the Black GOP Coalition who has long worked in Republican policy and strategy.

Black Republicans aren’t the only ones claiming to be blocked by Ms. Manigault Newman.

American Urban Radio Network reporter April Ryan, a White House correspondent who has covered four presidents, confirmed that Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former press secretary, told her that Ms. Manigault Newman had asked him to “stop calling on me” during press briefings.

Had Mr. Spicer adhered to that request, it could have blocked important information and coverage on behalf of millions of African-American listeners of AURN radio stations across the nation.

Ms. Ryan also said Ms. Manigault Newman tried to get her fired by calling her boss at AURN.

In an off-the-record meeting with several hundred black leaders last January during the transition, including Ben Chavis, president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Ms. Manigault Newman said NNPA would get the first interview with President Trump.

She later denied that promise despite multiple sources confirming the conversation.

Mr. Chavis said Ms. Manigault Newman indicated the NNPA interview was still possible when he interviewed her in September at her office in the Old Executive Office Building. He also said she never gave any indication at that time that she would be leaving the administration.

He said NNPA will continue to push for the interview with President Trump.

Mr. Chavis speculated that, based on his September interview — which he said has not been published — Ms. Manigault Newman may have been let go for pressing for diversity.

“She indicated broadly her determination to press diversity and inclusivity issues. She has always maintained that posture,” Mr. Chavis said. “I think that’s probably one of the things that probably got her in trouble in the White House.”

But Ms. Connors said the story Ms. Manigault Newman is telling is different from those told by sources.

“Based on her patterns of erratic and disruptive behavior, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she was confrontational with Gen. Kelly and things were played out the way they were reported to have played out — outside of her story.”