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Dishonor and disloyalty start in the leadership

August 18, 2018

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to take Omarosa Manigault Newman’s word for anything. But Lordy she has tapes, and they offer vivid proof that Donald Trump’s White House is part clown show, part nest of vipers.

Omarosa achieved single-name fame as a contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice,” where she performed with Shakespearean villainy — lying, cheating, backstabbing, viciously advancing her own interests and sabotaging her rivals. Trump evidently found all of this admirable, because he insisted on bringing her into his administration despite her utter lack of experience and qualifications.

It is no surprise that she wrote a tell-all book after being fired. It’s shocking, however, that she managed to record her dismissal by White House chief of staff John Kelly — an encounter that took place in the Situation Room, meant to be a super-secure bunker.

Omarosa’s recording of part of that meeting was aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In it, Kelly is heard making what sounds very much like a threat:

“I think it’s important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be, you know, we can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, Omarosa received a generous offer. She could receive $15,000 a month to perform vaguely defined duties for Trump’s re-election campaign. But she would have to sign nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements.

She declined the offer but kept the documents she was asked to sign — and showed them to The Washington Post.

On Monday, appearing on the “Today” show, she revealed a recording of a phone call she said she received from Trump the day after she was fired. “Omarosa, what’s going on?” Trump is heard to ask. “I just saw on the news that you’re thinking about leaving. What happened?”

When she tells him she was axed, Trump claims ignorance. “Nobody even told me about it,” he says. “You know they run a big operation, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that. Goddammit. I don’t love you leaving at all.”

Shortly after that was aired, Trump lashed out on Twitter:

“Wacky Omarosa, who got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time. She never made it, never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. ... When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!”

Omarosa claims to have realized only recently that Trump is a “racist, misogynist and bigot.”

So no, I’m not inclined to believe anything she claims without documentary evidence. But the tapes and the documents have not been disputed. Omarosa may not have obtained them honorably, but the old saying is true: There is no honor among thieves.

We don’t know what else might be in the conversations with Trump that lawyer Michael Cohen taped. We don’t know how many other recordings Omarosa might have made. We don’t know who else in the White House might have been keeping their own unauthorized records of conversations and events.

What we do know is why people in Trump’s orbit feel they need such insurance: Dishonor and disloyalty start at the top.

Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist. His email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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