By CATHERINE LUCEY and JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump and former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman faced off Monday in a messy clash that involved an explosive tell-all book, secret recordings and plenty of insults – reviving their roles as reality show boss and villain.
Trump accused Manigault Newman, the former White House liaison to black voters, as “wacky” and “not smart” after his former co-star revealed her recording of a phone conversation with the president during a media blitz for her new book.
Beyond their war of words, the row touched on several sensitive issues in Trump's White House, including a lack of racial diversity among senior officials, security in the executive mansion, a culture that some there feel borders on paranoia and the extraordinary measures used to keep ex-employees quiet.
In an unusual admission, Trump acknowledged that the public sparring was perhaps beneath a person in his position, tweeting that he knew it was “not presidential” to take on “a lowlife like Omarosa.” But he added: “This is a modern day form of communication and I know the Fake News Media will be working overtime to make even Wacky Omarosa look legitimate as possible. Sorry!”
The dispute has been building for days as Manigault Newman promotes her memoir “Unhinged,” which comes out officially Tuesday. The book paints a damning picture of Trump, including her claim that he used racial slurs on the set of his reality show “The Apprentice.”
In a series of interviews on NBC, Manigault Newman also revealed two audio recordings from her time at the White House, including portions of a recording of her firing by chief of staff John Kelly, which she says occurred in the high-security Situation Room, and a phone call with Trump after she was fired.
Trump officials and a number of outside critics denounced the recordings as a serious breach of ethics and security – and White House aides worried about what else Manigault Newman may have captured in the West Wing.
The latest tape recording appears to show Trump expressing surprise about her firing, saying “nobody even told me about it.” But Manigault Newman said he “probably instructed General Kelly to do it.”
On Twitter, Trump declared Monday that she had been “fired for the last time,” a reference to her appearances on his reality TV show. He said Kelly had called her a “loser & nothing but problems,” but he himself had tried to save her job – because he liked her public comments about him.
“I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me – until she got fired!” Trump tweeted.
Responding on NBC, Manigault Newman said, “I think it's sad that with all the things that's going on in the country that he would take time out to insult me and to insult my intelligence.”
She added, “This is his pattern with African-Americans.”
Manigault Newman's exit does highlight the lack of diversity among Trump's top aides. She was the highest-ranking African-American on the White House staff. She said on NBC that in her absence “they're making decisions about us without us.”
Trump's battle with his former top black aide underscores the racial tensions that have defined his presidency. He notably blamed “both sides” for violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, a year ago and has questioned the intelligence of other prominent black figures including California Rep. Maxine Waters, basketball star LeBron James and TV journalist Don Lemon. He also has targeted black NFL players for kneeling in social protest during the national anthem.
Manigault Newman also alleges that Trump allies tried to buy her silence after she left the White House, offering her $15,000 a month to accept a “senior position” on his 2020 re-election campaign along with a stringent nondisclosure agreement.
The offer raises fresh question about the ways that White House aides are being offered safe landing spots after they leave. For example, Trump's former personal aide John McEntee, who was removed from his job in April, went to the campaign.
Trump tweeted Monday that Manigault Newman has a “fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement!”
It was not clear exactly what he was referring to. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on ABC that there are “confidentiality agreements” in the West Wing. And Trump's campaign said that in the 2016 race she “signed the exact same NDA that everyone else on the campaign signed, which is still enforceable.”
Meanwhile, Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said on “Fox and Friends” Monday that Manigault Newman may have broken the law by recording private conversations inside the White House.
“She's certainly violating national security regulations, which I think have the force of law,” Giuliani said.
But experts in national security and clearance law said that, while she seriously violated rules – and would likely be barred from ever being granted a security clearance – she probably didn't break any law unless the conversations she recorded were classified.
“None of us have been able to identify that it would be illegal if unclassified,” said Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney, who has focused on national security law.
In the recording with Kelly, which Manigault Newman quotes extensively in her new book, Kelly can be heard saying that he wants to talk with her 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, before adding that if she makes it a “friendly departure” then she can “go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.”
Manigault Newman said she viewed the conversation as a “threat” and defended her decision to covertly record it and other White House conversations, saying otherwise “no one” would believe her.
She may not be finished talking.
Manigault Newman said, “There's a lot of very corrupt things happening in the White House and I am going to blow the whistle on a lot of them.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Hope Yen contributed to this report from Washington.