All due respect to Steve King and the House Intel memo, but this is more like Watergate … if Pat Buchanan had installed the infamous taping system. The New York Daily News reports that recently dismissed White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman had recorded discussions in the West Wing. Now she’s seeking high-powered legal help, apparently worried that Robert Mueller may come knocking for the recordings:
Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman may have taped confidential West Wing conversations and fears being caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, sources told the Daily News on Thursday.
The former reality TV star’s official last day in the Trump administration is Saturday — despite the abrupt announcement of her departure last month — and her next step seems to be lawyering up. …
“Everyone knows Omarosa loves to record people and meetings using the voice notes app on her iPhone,” a source disclosed. “Don’t be surprised if she has secret audio files on everyone in that White House, past and present staffers included.”
A recent ban on personal cell phones in the West Wing, which followed the release of Michael Wolff’s explosive White House tell-all was related to Manigault-Newman’s track record of recording conversations, the source added.
Interesting, but the timing on this may be problematic if the story is true at all. Bloomberg reported the ban on cell phones in the West Wing a little over two weeks ago, on January 4th. That order came directly from chief of staff John Kelly, and Bloomberg suggested that it didn’t have to do with leaks to the press. However, the reason given at the time was data security, not rogue recording:
Chief of Staff John Kelly imposed the ban, citing security concerns. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about press leaks since taking office, but aides said the change isn’t connected to concerns about unauthorized disclosures to news organizations.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday that “the security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration and therefore starting next week the use of all personal devices for both guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing.”
One official said that there are too many devices connected to the White House wireless network, and that personal phones aren’t as secure as those issued by the federal government. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal White House matter.
Manigault-Newman got canned three weeks before the Bloomberg report came out. It’s still possible that the two are related — Kelly may have issued the order at the same time and it took a few weeks for the ban to leak out. And it wouldn’t be the first time that Manigault-Newman has had covert recordings become controversial, either. After she produced a recording of a confrontation with White House correspondent April Ryan in February 2017, the reporter accused Manigault-Newman of “Nixonian behavior”:
The encounter was recorded by an unidentified White House media employee, according to Manigault, who said the tape backs up her claim that Ryan’s account is false.
“She came in [to the White House press-staff area] hot,” hurling insults at her, Manigault said. “She came in with an attitude. For her to characterize me as the bully — I’m so glad we have this tape . . . because it’s ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’ ” in Ryan’s case, Manigault said.
Ryan said she was not aware that the run-in was being recorded and never consented to it. “I didn’t know she was taping it,” she said. “This is about her trying to smear my name. This is freaking Nixonian.”
Making such a recording is legal under D.C. law; the city has a “one-party consent” law, which makes it legal to record a phone call or conversation if one person in the conversation consents. It is illegal, however, to record both parties if neither has consented.
That may not help Manigault-Newman if she taped conversations in the White House that discussed classified information. It certainly won’t help her with her former friends in the West Wing, where she’s due to depart tomorrow, at least officially. If the NYDN’s sources are correct, it won’t just be Mueller who’ll initiate legal action against her, and her need to find the best lawyers in town is that much more understandable.
That’s if the report is true, however. As justifiably suspicious as this White House has been about leaks, would Trump have stood still over Manigault-Newman’s supposedly widely known surveillance within the West Wing for long? Would Kelly have allowed the issue to fester to December rather than deal with it immediately on his arrival? It’s possible he only found out about it in December and that’s what provided the catalyst for her termination, but it seems tough to believe that Manigault-Newman was so beloved by other West Wingers that they would have refrained from warning Kelly within nanoseconds of his taking the job.
If it is true, though, you’d better believe Mueller would want to get his hands on the recordings. However, Trump has a very strong claim to executive privilege under these circumstances, perhaps especially so since Manigault-Newman’s role was entirely advisory. The former Trump crony won’t be the only one consulting attorneys if the NYDN report pans out.