Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman released what she described as a secret recording of Chief of Staff John Kelly firing her. Taping the White House chief of staff would be bad enough but Manigault Newman claims her firing took place in the White House Situation Room, where recording devices aren’t allowed. Manigault Newman told NBC’s Meet the Press she recorded Kelly to protect herself and accused him of threatening her while she was being fired.
“We’ve got to talk to you about leaving the White House,” Kelly can be heard in the tape. “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 and the use of government vehicles and some other issues.” Kelly later says: “I think it’s important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be, you know you 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.”
Manigault Newman characterized Kelly’s words as “very obviously a threat,” particularly noting how he referenced her reputation. “He goes on to say that, ‘things can get ugly for you,’” she said. “That’s downright criminal.”
Manigault Newman insists she made the recording to protect herself. “I protected myself because this is a White House where everybody lies … You have to have your own back or else you’ll look back and you’ll have 17 knives in your back.”
Yet what many people were immediately shocked about weren’t Kelly’s words but rather that Manigault Newman would record a conversation in the Situation Room. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor*, wrote on Twitter that Manigault Newman “needs a lawyer.” But he also pointed out that someone needs to ask Kelly why he would feel the need to have that conversation in the Situation Room in the first place.
Mariotti was hardly alone in his shock. “This is a HUGE security violation. HUGE,” wrote Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Security Democracy. “Makes you wonder what other kinds of security breaches are occurring under this White House.” The potential security implications of the recording are huge, noted David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic. “If Omarosa carried for example a cellphone into the Situation Room, then not only did she record conversations there, but so potentially has any country or criminal organization that thought to hack her phone,” Frum wrote.
*Correction at 2:20 p.m.: This post originally misidentified Renato Mariotti as a candidate for Illinois attorney general. He lost the primary election in March, 2018.