Newly minted White House chief of staff John Kelly has sought to put a dent in the influence of one of President Donald Trump’s most famous advisers: Omarosa Manigault.
The former Apprentice co-star—who currently serves as the communications director for the Office of Public Liaison—has seen her direct access to the president limited since Kelly took the top White House job in late July, sources tell The Daily Beast. In particular, Kelly has taken steps to prevent her and other senior staffers from getting unvetted news articles on the president’s Resolute desk—a key method for influencing the president’s thinking, and one that Manigualt used to rile up Trump about internal White House drama.
Multiple sources in and outside the Trump White House told The Daily Beast that, until recently, it was common practice for aides to slide into the Oval Office and distract and infuriate the president with pieces of negative news coverage. Manigault, they say, was one of the worst offenders.
“When Gen. Kelly is talking about clamping down on access to the Oval, she’s patient zero,” a source close to the Trump administration said.
The stories Manigault would present to Trump, often on a phone or printed out, would often enrage the president, and resulted in him spending at least the rest of the day fuming about it. For example, one White House source noted that Manigault was one of the people who would bring to President Trump’s attention online articles concerning MSNBC hosts, and former Trump pals, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski “slagging him, and his administration.”
This contributed, at least in small part, to the president’s mounting rage against the MSNBC couple, which exploded in late June when Trump attacked them and tweeted that, among other things, Brzezinski “was bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
Manigault earned a reputation within the White House for this kind of stuff, and, to many of her colleagues, it quickly overshadowed her comms duties and pro-Trump outreach to African-American audiences.
Kelly “is not thrilled by any means by [Manigault],” a West Wing official told The Daily Beast. “He is, however, thrilled that he has been able to stop staffers including Omarosa from bolting into the Oval Office and triggering the president with White House [palace] intrigue stories.”
One of Kelly’s first organizational changes upon taking the chief of staff job was to strictly limit and vet the information that aides put before the president during official work hours, according to a pair of internal memos first reported by Politico. Kelly also imposed new restrictions on what used to be very lax Oval Office walk-in privileges for senior staff. The free flow of information and casual pop-ins during the day had become a means for officials to enlist the president in their preferred policy initiatives, damage the standing of White House rivals in the president’s eyes, or nudge Trump toward a particular attitude or mood.
Of particular concern for Kelly were stories from conspiratorial right-wing websites that occasionally whipped Trump into a frenzy over issues such as the West Wing’s press leak problem. In Manigault’s case, sources said, the stories generally originated at more obscure, gossipy websites, and concerned White House palace intrigue, media personalities, or prominent Republicans in Congress.
Ever since Kelly instituted the new regime, Trump’s former reality-TV co-star’s capacity to influence her boss during the work day has taken a hit.
“She’s not happy about it,” another White House source said. “She has a bond that goes back years with [Trump] and resents being cut off like everyone has.”
To be sure, the president still uses his private cellphone to speak with and solicit advice from a small inner circle of longtime aides and friends, Manigault among them. Though Kelly has sought to limit and streamline the pipeline of information into the Oval Office, there’s not much he can do about the president’s penchant for calling up his closest advisers, even at odd hours, once his staffers depart for the evening.
As Kelly has clamped down on the information that reaches the president through official channels, Trump’s inner circle has increasingly reverted to phone calls with the president directly. The sense is that Kelly is essentially powerless to block Trump off from a coterie of friends and allies that predate the White House by years.
Manigault’s loyalty to Trump is not driven by ideology or politics nearly as much as it is by their longstanding personal relationship. Her executive-branch experience dates back to the 1990s, when she had a brief stint in the Clinton administration. That job didn’t last long, as she was reportedly a nightmare to work with, to the point that at least one female colleague wanted to inflict physical violence on her. And before becoming a top Trump campaign surrogate and joining his Republican administration, Manigault was a big fan of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Manigault’s passionate defense of Trump has sometimes escalated into her threatening people with supposed enemies lists, including one incident where she reportedly told a reporter that she was among several journalists on whom White House officials kept “dossiers” of dirt.
“It’s so great our enemies are making themselves clear so that when we get into the White House, we know where we stand,” she had previously told IJR at Trump’s election-night celebration. “Let me just tell you, Mr. Trump has a long memory and we’re keeping a list.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment, and Manigault declined to comment on this story. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to talk about Omarosa.
Kelly is not the first to attempt to limit access by some of Trump’s longtime confidants, including Manigault. His predecessor, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, tried to restructure West Wing meetings in May to cut down on the number of aides with direct access to Trump in those settings.
The New York Times reported at the time that Priebus had sought to exclude Manigault in particular from as many meetings as possible.
But Priebus mostly failed to meaningfully limit the steady flow of information to the president. The optimism aides expressed at the time about his effort to restructure internal White House operations could be warning for Kelly, who is attempting to succeed where Priebus failed.
“The trains are now running on time,” Trump’s friend and confidant Tom Barrack boasted to the Times of White House restructuring efforts in May. Two months later, Priebus was out of a job after routine public humiliation inflicted and sanctioned by Trump himself.
Manigault was never much of a Reince loyalist, either, even before he attempted to sideline her.
Two sources told The Daily Beast that during the earliest days of the Trump White House’s brief Anthony Scaramucci era—a relentlessly chaotic 10 days that kicked off with an attempted Scaramucci-led purge—Manigault was among the several Trump allies who sent in a list—yet another one of her stated lists—of people she thought Trump should fire. Her list skewed heavily toward establishment Republicans.
Priebus was among the “RNC guys” on that list, according to one source with direct knowledge.