Omarosa isn’t here to make friends — especially not with Savannah Guthrie.
In a pair of television appearances promoting her new book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” Omarosa Manigault Newman proved she still knows how to stoke the drama nearly 15 years after rising to the margins of fame on “The Apprentice.”
As any good reality star knows, you’re only as good as your tape, and the 44-year-old former White House aide came to “Meet the Press” and “Today” armed with secret recordings made during her nearly yearlong tenure in the Trump administration, ready to settle old scores (with White House chief of staff John Kelly), attempt to form new alliances (with “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd) and make new enemies (with Guthrie). To some, she’s a craven opportunist; to others, she’s a patriotic whistleblower. But whatever your view, one thing is clear: She’s a performer through and through.
A year ago, Manigault Newman was the most prominent African American woman in the Trump administration and one of president’s fiercest defenders. Now, she’s joined a growing list of former confidantes who’ve flipped on the president, alleging that a long-rumored recording of Trump using the N-word during his tenure on “The Apprentice” is, indeed, real.
Anyone emerging from a years-long coma Sunday morning would have been baffled as to what one of reality TV’s all-time great villains — a figure as notorious as Puck from “The Real World” — was doing as the main guest on NBC’s revered “Meet the Press.”
But Manigault Newman, looking vaguely bridal in a gauzy white jacket and gold crucifix, seemed determined to be taken seriously. Her visit came a year after the bloody Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., one of the most divisive chapters so far in the Trump presidency, and the subject of race dominated the 20-minute conversation between Manigault Newman and Todd.
In “Unhinged,” Manigault Newman says she confirmed the existence of the tape with three sources. On Sunday, she told Todd that since the book went to press, she has heard the recording with her own ears.
”It confirmed that he is truly a racist,” she said.
While Manigault Newman added that she didn’t want to play a part in releasing the tape for political gain, she did bring “Meet the Press” a slightly less provocative exclusive: an audiotape of her getting fired by Kelly in the supposedly secure situation room last December. While little of what Kelly says is controversial — except perhaps his assertion that the White House staff works for him, not Trump — its mere existence is already causing an uproar on both sides of the political spectrum.
Manigault Newman, whose previous books include “The Bitch Switch: Knowing How to Turn It On and Off,” used language straight out of a reality TV confessional to explain why she had made secret recordings during her stint in the administration.
“I protected myself because this is a White House where everybody lies,” she said. “The president lies to the American people. Sarah Huckabee [Sanders] stands in front of the country and lies every single day. You have to have your own back because otherwise you'll look back and you'll see 17 knives in your back.”
Addressing the question of her own credibility, Manigault Newman made an attempt at a mea culpa, claiming she was “complicit with this White House deceiving this nation.”
Yet Manigault Newman said she has no regrets about starring in “The Apprentice” — the show that revived Trump’s fame and, ultimately, helped propel him to the White House — or, presumably, serving in his administration.
“It changed my life. I wouldn't have gotten the chance to get to know you and many of the other people in my life,” she told Todd, who may have been surprised to learn they were such good friends.
By contrast, Manigault Newman struck an instantly combative tone a day later on NBC’s “Today.” (The former reality star might be disloyal to Trump, but she’s awfully committed to the network where she got her start.) Wearing a form-fitting, asymmetrical lace dress the color of a brand-new tennis ball, she looked ready to rumba on “Dancing With The Stars” — a career move that seems all but inevitable at this point.
She came with yet another exclusive recording — a phone call from Trump expressing regret over her departure from the administration. “God damn it, I don’t love you leaving at all,” he says in the tape, also claiming the decision was made without his knowledge. “You know, they run a big operation,” he says, presumably referring to chief of staff Kelly.
Manigault Newman told Guthrie she didn’t believe the president, whom she described as Kelly’s “puppet.” Yet she grew testy when Guthrie asked why she agreed to work for someone she thought to be chronically dishonest.
“Savannah, slow down,” she said through a tight smile, as if scolding a hyperactive toddler. “Don’t worry, I have all the time you need. So you don’t have to ask 10 questions in one second.” But it turns out she did: A few minutes later, Manigault Newman abruptly tried to cut off the interview when Guthrie brought up the subject of the president’s mental health.
“You know that it’s a 7-minute interview, now we’re at 10,” Manigault Newman said — at about 8 minutes and 45 seconds. “So your last question.” Guthrie gamely tried to get Manigault Newman to stay (“If you’ve really got to go, I got a stack more questions. Are you sure?”) but to no avail.
How to explain the shift in demeanor between “Meet the Press” and “Today,” the divergent responses to hosts who both asked tough but fair questions of their not-especially-credible guest?
Maybe Manigault Newman felt freer to ham it up and embrace her drama queen image on an “infotainment” show. After all, she also used her “Today” appearance to complain about personal effects she’d been unable to retrieve from the White House and likened her firing to “false imprisonment.”
Or maybe she has merely absorbed the lessons of reality television, a genre that pits women against each other.
But it was Guthrie who ultimately scored the sharpest dig on Monday. “The book is called ‘Unhinged,’ ” she said to Manigault Newman near the end of their tense exchange. “Who does that refer to?”