How Omarosa Became the Most ‘Despised’ Person in the Trump White House

A penchant for self-aggrandizement, a direct line to Trump, and perpetual internal distractions do not a beloved colleague make. Who knew!?

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty

Omarosa Manigault made her name as one of reality TV’s most notorious and hated personalities: the breakout star on season one of Donald Trump’s NBC series The Apprentice.

Thirteen-years later, she is in the White House, not on a makeshift television set. But she’s still trying to win Trump’s favor and she still has the same villainous image she earned on NBC.

According to four sources in and outside the West Wing, the longtime Trump confidant is isolated inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as she quietly plots against her fellow senior officials. Colleagues regularly complain about Manigault’s behavior and work ethic. She frequently derails internal meetings with irrelevant or counterproductive interjections and she’s earned a reputation for attempting to micromanage White House communications operations.

White House chief of staff John Kelly has tried to curtail Manigault’s direct access to the president, as The Daily Beast reported earlier this month. But her continued proximity to Trump—he speaks with her over the phone, even in the middle of the night—underscores just how thorny her tenure has been for those tasked with managing the administration.

“She doesn’t have any friends in high places—except the one place [where] it matters,” said one Republican official close to the White House and familiar with internal operations, referring to the president. Outside of Trump, she is widely “despised” among West Wing staff, the official added.

Trump genuinely trusts few people outside of his own immediate family. Those close to the president say Manigault is one of them. Though sources say she doesn’t do much day to day, Manigault earns $179,700 annually, the top rate for White House staffers.

Manigault and the White House press office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to vent about internal affairs.

Multiple sources recounted specific incidents where Manigault—in her position as assistant to the president and communications director for the Office of Public Liaison—would walk into White House meetings and immediately try to hijack the meeting with off-topic conversation or gossip.

One such incident took place in April, when the communications staff met to strategize ways to respond to an emerging story about whether White House and administration officials had signed an ethics pledge imposed by an executive order, and whether any had received waivers from provisions of that pledge. Manigault attended the meeting, the Republican official said. But instead of helping to plot strategy, she bragged about the waiver her personal attorney was going to secure for her.

“What, you all don’t have [your own] lawyers looking into all of this, too?” Manigault asked her colleagues at one point, according to the official, who described the aside as counterproductive. (According to White House disclosures, Manigault has not received a waiver to her ethics pledge.)

White House officials say that during meetings that include Manigault, aides will often take out their smartphones and start messaging each other saying they wished she would stop talking or leave the room entirely.

Another source familiar with Manigault’s portfolio said she would occasionally attend prep sessions for the White House daily briefing. “She would come and bring up random, off-topic stuff,” the source said. “She would raise issues and never have a solution.”

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On other occasions, Manigault would overstep her authority by attempting to manage aspects of the White House press operation outside of her purview. One source recalled Manigault attending a press pool “photo spray” in the Oval Office and suddenly directing media to leave without any input from the press office “wrangler,” who normally handles logistics.

At the same time, Manigault’s duties in the OPL have gone less than smoothly. Last month, Manigault spoke on a panel at the annual National Association of Black Journalists conference in New Orleans to discuss police violence in black communities. She was repeatedly confronted by panelists and others in attendance, many of whom hissed and booed her, in part over her boss’s public encouragement of police brutality.

Those and other controversies—such as Manigault’s decision to give herself the title “The Honorable” in a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus—have caused headaches in the White House press shop.

Despite those headaches, Manigault has outlasted a chief of staff, a chief strategist, two communications directors, a National Security Adviser, and a press secretary, among other officials. But she’s also been relegated to the White House fringes—literally and figuratively. Sources said former chief of staff Reince Priebus and ex Press Secretary Spicer took pains to ensure her office remained in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and not in the West Wing itself.

When Spicer resigned in late July, Manigault “was probably the happiest, giddiest person in the White House,” the Republican official said. Several people told The Daily Beast that Manigault privately mused that Spicer's resignation would free up space in the West Wing and allow her to move into an office closer to the Oval. During the brief Anthony Scaramucci era—a chaotic, if not memorable, 10 days—Manigault was among the Trump allies who sent Scaramucci a list of people she thought Trump should fire, two sources told The Daily Beast earlier this month. Her list skewed heavily toward establishment Republicans, with Priebus at the top, according to one source with direct knowledge.

But Manigault’s belief that getting rid of the old guard would help improve her own standing have not been realized. She remains in an office in the EEOB, and animosity with current and former White House officials persists. Kelly is not a fan; nor is his deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen.

And yet, for all the internal drama she’s stirred, Manigault’s salvation has been that Trump loves her. The president continues to call her, even at late hours, to seek her counsel on policy, politics, poll numbers, and media coverage, particularly pertaining to Russia-election-meddling news and feuds with Republican lawmakers, according to sources familiar with their conversations.

The degree to which the president will listen to her is, in fact, what got her on chief of staff Kelly’s bad side in the first place. Within Trump’s inner circle, Manigault became especially notorious for frequently popping into the Oval Office and distracting and infuriating Trump with pieces of negative news coverage, celebrity gossip, and stories of palace intrigue. “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.

Manigault’s position of both influence and nuisance in the Trump administration isn’t even the first time she’s caused trouble in a White House. In the 1990s, she enjoyed a brief stint in the Clinton administration, briefly serving in both the White House and the office of Vice President Al Gore. Neither of the jobs lasted long, as she was reportedly a nightmare to work with, to the point where at least one female colleague wanted to inflict physical violence on her.