Omarosa Manigault Newman’s forthcoming tell-all book about the Trump administration, and the news that she has recordings of conversations from within the White House, has met a wall of skepticism bordering on reflexive disbelief. That is perfectly understandable: Manigault Newman came to the White House with an unimpressive résumé even by the dismal standards of the Trump administration, having attached herself to the president as a reality show character. Her shocked, shocked discovery that racism is going on in this administration makes her appear at best naïve, at worst cynically willing to overlook obvious flaws in her boss that she decided to acknowledge only after being fired.
But Manigault Newman may indeed have the goods. Or, at least, some of the goods. And she is playing her hand in a clever way that appears designed to maximize her leverage.
A passage in the New York Times summarizes some of the more explosive claims:
Ms. Manigault Newman also claims that Mr. Trump’s daughter-in-law tried to buy her silence by offering a $15,000-a-month contract; that the president secreted a tanning bed into the White House residence; that Mr. Trump described his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, as “ditsy”; that he once chewed up a piece of paper to avoid having it collected by presidential record-keepers; and that he routinely comments on women’s looks.
The $15,000-per-month retainer has been confirmed by the Washington Post, which reviewed a copy of the offer. This lends veracity to her other charges; after all, nobody is going to pay her $15,000 a month to keep quiet unless they know she possesses some damaging information.
The detail about Trump bringing a tanning bed into the White House has been met with some incredulity and flat denials from the administration. But Trump obviously uses a tanning bed on a very regular basis. Just look at him! It would be extremely difficult to maintain his unearthly orange tone, with the trademark white circles around his eyes, as consistently as he does without very frequent maintenance. And since Trump can’t easily leave the White House to go tanning without detection, having access to tanning equipment in his residence is actually a perfectly logical explanation.
The charge that Trump “routinely comments on women’s looks” is so obviously true it’s comic. This is something Trump does in public. He did it on Twitter this weekend. Twice!
More importantly, the Post reports that it “has listened to several of the recordings made by Manigault Newman, which match quotations recounted in the book excerpts.” The story does not provide any more information about what the recordings say. That lack of detail might seem to undercut the importance of her recordings. But it instead gives her important leverage.
Current and former Trump staffers don’t know what conversations Manigault Newman recorded. Therefore, they can’t publicly deny any charge they know to be true, or even suspect might be true, for fear that she can release audio proving them to be liars (and enhancing her own credibility in the process.) This passage in Politico’s account, the second-to-last paragraph, illustrates the dilemma for Trump loyalists. “Manigault Newman’s reputation for deceit has also made people fear her. ‘I don’t know what tapes she has on me,’ said a former colleague, explaining his reluctance to comment on her accusations.’ ”
The story frames this dynamic as Manigault Newman’s “deceit,” but what the source is actually saying is that her weapon is having proof of what is true. Trump’s people are the ones afraid to engage in deceit, at least on the record.
Ultimately, the credibility of her accusations will rest primarily on what she can produce on audiotape. The recordings might be damning, or they might not. In the meantime, she seems to have maneuvered her former colleagues into a highly uncomfortable spot.