WASHINGTON (CNN) — On Thursday afternoon, with the furor over Omarosa Manigault Newman’s tell-all memoir of her year in the White House slightly fading, reality TV’s favorite villain struck again.
In an appearance on MSNBC, the one-time White House aide played a tape of a conversation with Trump daughter-in-law and 2020 campaign strategist Lara Trump that came after Omarosa had been fired by the White House in late 2017. The secretly recorded audio reveals Lara Trump offering Omarosa a job with the Trump re-election campaign at a salary of $15,000 a month, which would add up to $180,000 for a year.
The taping frenzy story didn’t end there. The New York Times reported Friday that Omarosa has as many as 200 tapes.
Lara Trump, in a statement made public shortly after the Omarosa tape dropped, confirmed the conversation. “When Omarosa was fired by the White House Chief of Staff in December of 2017, my entire family was concerned for her because we had no idea about the basis of her dismissal,” she said. “We still wanted her on our team because we cared so much about her personally. That’s why I reached out to offer her a position with the 2020 Trump Campaign before we knew anything about the gross violations of ethics and integrity during her White House tenure.”
That valiant attempt at spin aside, it’s clear that the Trump operation either a) wanted to buy Omarosa’s silence in the wake of her removal from the White House or b) thought enough of Omarosa’s skill set to retain her services for the duration of the campaign. And it’s very hard to imagine that it was option “b,” given that White House chief of staff John Kelly fired Omarosa because of what he described as “some pretty, in my opinion, significant integrity issues.”
We know what Kelly said in firing Omarosa because, of course, she was secretly taping that conversation — which happened in the Situation Room! — too.
Which brings me to this: The question of how many more secretly recorded tapes Omarosa has, and what, exactly, is on them, is suddenly of critical importance to the Trump White House — which admits that they do not know just how many recordings she made.
Let’s start with the four tapes Omarosa has released so far — in the order she released them:
The Kelly tape in which he fires her in the Situation Room
A conversation she had with President Trump in the wake of her firing, in which he appears to be clueless about her removal. “You know, they run a big operation but I didn’t know it,” he says on the recording. “I didn’t know that. Goddamn it, I don’t love you leaving at all.”
A chat between Omarosa and fellow Trump aides Lynne Patton and Katrina Pierson in which Pierson appears to acknowledge that a tape exists in which Trump uses the N-word. (Pierson later said she was doing no such thing; she said her response of, “No, he said it. He is embarrassed by it,” was simply her attempt to move the conversation along. Ahem.)
The Lara Trump tape
While Omarosa has been very cagey about how many more tapes she has — and what is on those recordings — she has indicated that she has taped conversations with Lara Trump, Eric Trump, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
“I have plenty,” she told Chris Matthews earlier this week. (This is Omarosa, of course, so you have to take that boast with a massive grain of salt).
To date, the tapes that Omarosa has released haven’t contained any massive bombshells. The most amazing thing in the Kelly tape was that Omarosa was willing and able to record something in the Situation Room. The Omarosa-Trump conversation could be read as a President out of the loop with what his administration is doing. But it could also be Trump faking as though he didn’t know she had been fired, when he did. The Pierson tape is potentially more problematic, but only in the sense that it seems to add more credibility to the notion that a N-word tape might actually exist.
The Lara Trump conversation isn’t great for Trumpworld as it certainly seems as though they are seeking to hand Omarosa a cushy campaign job in order to keep her in the fold (and, therefore, quiet about her White House firing.) But it’s hard to imagine that any proof will emerge that shows that is in fact what the plan was — as opposed to Lara Trump simply trying to look out for a friend from the campaign.
If this is all Omarosa has, it’s not all that bad. It’s embarrassing, sure. And it’s a little sketchy in places. But there’s no smoking gun here.
(Conventional wisdom would be that Omarosa leaked the best audio she had in the first few days surrounding her memoir in order to boost sales as much as possible.)
The problem for the White House is the dread of not knowing. The fact that Omarosa taped any conversations clearly caught top White House aides by surprise. Now, she has them all on edge — wracking their brains for whether they ever said anything to her that could get them fired. That on-pins-and-needles feeling isn’t conducive to getting anything productive done. And it’s hard to imagine that veil lifting until we know — or at least we believe – that Omarosa has dropped all of her best audio nuggets.
When will that be? The only person who knows for sure is, well, Omarosa. And that has to be terrifying for the Trump White House.
News analysis by Chris Cillizza. CNN Editor-at-large
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