The White House press secretary wants the press to believe that Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, was just joking when she told a member of the White House press corps that the Trump administration had secret “dossiers” on several black journalists.
Well no one, least of all journalists, is laughing.
Manigault made the revelation two weeks ago during a heated exchange with April Ryan, a black White House reporter.
Manigault, one of the highest profile blacks in the administration, got into an argument with Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. The altercation, which took place outside the office of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, was witnessed by other members of the White House press corps, among them Abby Phillips, a reporter for The Washington Post.
Ryan accused Manigault of “physically” intimidating her, over what is unknown, but Ryan was said to be visibly unnerved by the incident. According to Ryan, Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable.”
Spicer tried, unsuccessfully, to downplay the incident during a daily White House briefing.
He told the room full of journalists that there are no dossiers being kept, “just a binder they put right here.”
“Um, that was a joke,” he added.
No one laughed.
It wasn’t the first time Manigault has intimated Trump is out to get anyone he considers an enemy.
On November 9, the day after the election, Manigault said the president-elect’s campaign is “keeping a list of people who did not support his run to the White House.”
“Let me just tell you, Mr. Trump has a long memory and we’re keeping a list,” Manigault told the Independent Journal Review, an online news outlet started by two former GOP staffers.
Last September, Manigault said everyone who dared to criticize the candidate would “soon have to bow down” to President Trump.
“Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump,” she said. “It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.’
Manigault, an ordained minister who was an active member of Trump’s campaign, made the comment in response to a tweet posted by Senator Lindsey Graham that he supported conservative candidate, Evan McMullin.
Manigault responded by suggesting the South Carolina Republican was an enemy and said: “God bless him.”
In the 1970s, then President Richard Nixon compiled a list of major political opponents deemed hostile to the administration. The list included the names of nearly 50 members of the news media, among them James Reston of the New York Times, Carl Rowan, a syndicated columnist, Daniel Schorr and Marvin Kalb of CBS, Lem Tucker of NBC and Katherine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.
J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also kept secret intelligence files on “enemies of the United States,” a list that included terrorists, communists, spies, President John F. Kennedy, civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other private citizens Hoover or the FBI had deemed subversive.
It is well documented that governments use information in an attempt to blackmail and control people. By secretly collecting information, intimate or scandalous, governments have gained both the intelligence and aura of authority to discredit political oppoents, journalists or foreign leaders.
It’s clear that Manigault’s comment was meant to put fear into the hearts and minds of Ryan and other journalists who criticize, second-guess or speak ill of the new administration.
It hasn’t worked but that hasn’t stopped Trump and his associates from trying.
Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s refused to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, instead offering an emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!”
But the Trump administration has not tried to hide its contempt for the press. In February, the president tweeted the press was “the enemy of the American people!”
Manigault wasn’t publicly admonished by her boss for her behavior, which only served to embolden a woman whose prior claim to fame was as a contestant on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s reality television show. Manigault became known as one of the most combative personalities ever to appear on the program, skilled in undercutting rivals.
During the campaign, Manigault served as director of African-American outreach for Trump, a role she used as a bully pulpit to threaten close friends and colleagues who questioned her allegiance to a man who had repeatedly disparaged the black community.
To those who didn’t stand by her, Manigualt said: “I will never forget the people who turned their backs on me.”
During the campaign, Trump declined several invitations to speak with black groups like the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Last October, Manigault accused Ryan in an email of being paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, a claim Ryan denied.
Manigault’s email to Ryan included a link to an article from the Intercept. The article detailed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to secure favorable media coverage by manipulating reporters. The article included a list compiled by Clinton staffers of journalists whom the campaign hoped to influence. Ryan’s name was on that list.
“This story suggests that as a reporter you are (or were) a paid Clinton surrogate,” Manigault wrote in the email. “I pray this is not true. This could be hurtful to your legacy and the integrity of your work.”
She followed that up with a second email to Ryan minutes later that read: “Protect your legacy!”
Although Ryan dismissed the idea of any such dossiers, saying to Manigault, “good for you, good for you, good for you,” other members of the press, including me, aren’t so sure that there’s some truth to the allegation.
As my late mother used to say: “Many a true word is spoken through a joke.”