Omarosa Manigault Newman, Trump’s apprentice turned nemesis

Courtney Weaver
Omarosa Manigault, aide to President Donald Trump, watches during a meeting in the White House  Feb. 14, 2017. 
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Donald Trump likes to brag about the superior size of his nuclear weapons. Omarosa Manigault Newman likes to boast about her own arsenal: a collection of audio recordings she secretly made of the US president and his staff.

Eight months after her abrupt departure from the White House, the former Apprentice star has, predictably, turned on her erstwhile boss by airing some of those surreptitiously recorded private conversations.

"There are things I'm going to save to share when the time is right," Ms. Newman explained on Thursday, in the latest of several television interviews. "Believe me," she cooed. "My tapes are much better than theirs."

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Having pioneered the role of the typecast reality television villain, Ms. Newman, 44, has reinvented herself as a Trumpian prophet of doom, eager to warn the world of the US president's latent racism, failing mind and destructive capabilities.

The publicity tour is tied to the release of her memoir Unhinged, which has already inspired legal action from the Trump campaign and the ire of the president. Long Mr. Trump's apprentice, Ms. Newman appears to have finally outdone her former mentor, underscoring the liabilities he incurs by surrounding himself with people who remind him of himself and share some of the same potent talents.

"Omarosa is playing Donald Trump smartly, strategically and for her benefit," says David Cay Johnston, author of The Making of Donald Trump. "That makes her just like Donald, whose presidency is all about Donald."

Jeff Johnson, a star of the BET cable network who has known Ms. Newman for years, says Mr. Trump probably saw some of himself in his television apprentice, while the president had inevitably influenced her as well. "We love and hate the ride of the 'O-show' all at the same time, and that's what makes her loveable, hateable and intriguing," he says.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Ms. Newman says her family grew up using food stamps. A fire devastated her grandmother's house when she was a child, killing her cousin. Her father was murdered when she was seven.

She graduated from Ohio's Central State University with a degree in broadcast journalism, before moving to Washington. By the late 1990s, she had landed a job in vice-president Al Gore's office before being transferred to the White House Office of Personnel Management and then the commerce department.

While she has touted those White House roles, they do not appear to have gone smoothly. A former office administrator for Mr. Gore told The New York Times that appointing Ms. Newman was "the worst hire we ever made". A former commerce department official told the NYT that Ms. Newman was eventually removed from her post after being seen as "unqualified and disruptive".

Ms. Newman's life assumed an upward trajectory again in 2004, when she appeared in the first-season of The Apprentice and gamely set a new standard for reality TV villainy.

In the intervening years, she held on to faint corners of the limelight, appearing on Celebrity Apprentice, writing a book and, separately, becoming ordained as a Baptist minister. Her next big break, like the previous one, was tethered to Mr. Trump. She served as the Republican presidential nominee's director for African-American outreach. After his victory, she was appointed as an assistant to the president and the director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.

Ms. Newman has offered competing explanations for why she chose to attach herself to the Trump White House. To some extent, she claims, she was caught up in a "cult of personality". Mr. Trump also appeared to fill a kind of hole. "In some ways I was looking for a father figure," she told PBS NewsHour. "And I found that in Donald Trump."

While her time at the White House was unremarkable, her departure was not. After being fired by Mr. Trump's chief of staff John Kelly in December, she immediately set to work on Unhinged, aided by her recordings.

The White House has not taken the book lightly. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has condemned it, while the Republican National Committee has released an attack advert targeting Ms. Newman. Most rattled of all, it seems, is the president, who denounced her on Twitter as a "dog" and a "crazed, crying low-life". The Trump campaign has threatened legal action against Ms. Newman, saying she violated a 2016 confidentiality agreement.

In the meantime, no one appears to be relishing the public attention more than Ms. Newman. She has met her press obligations with the discipline of a marathon runner who just happens to be very slowly handing out incredibly juicy surreptitiously recorded audio tapes. Just when it appears that she and the news cycle have run their course, Ms. Newman is back for more.

Mr. Johnson joked that it was only a matter of time before Ms. Newman heard from Guinness World Records. "Clearly her 15 minutes have lasted a lot longer than anyone in the history of entertainment."

In the meantime, he predicted, there was no one better prepared than Ms. Newman to meet the returning fire from the White House. After all, he said: "She, better than anybody, knows the depth to which the president will go to have vengeance."

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Key Points
  • Trump again slams special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for allowing the "witch hunt" to take root in the first place.
  • Trump says fired FBI agent Peter Strzok should be "criminally investigated."
  • Trump escalates his attacks against former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, calling her a "dog" and a "crazed, crying lowlife."