As the unspooling drama of Omarosa Manigault’s White House departure spun into its 36th hour, Washington began asking itself: “Does it actually matter whether Omarosa quit or was fired?”
“Dumbest story ever,” tweeted John Harwood, a CNBC reporter.
His message was liked more than 26,000 times, but still the saga of her dramatic exit Tuesday night from the Trump administration churned on through Thursday — a reality television show that just couldn’t find its way to the closing credits.
“Omarosa” continued trending on social media. The name crawled across cable news chyrons and resurfaced at the White House daily press briefing. It more than held its own in a pair of news cycles already plenty busy with the Alabama Senate race upset, the troubled tax reform plan and the massive Disney-Fox deal.
Omarosa. Omarosa. Omarosa.
All the players in the meta-soap opera surrounding the former reality TV star’s departure from the relatively inconsequential job of director of communications at the White House Office of Public Liaison kept the story going. Anonymous White House officials shared details of her exit with political reporters. Manigault gave an exclusive morning-show interview. White House correspondents kept trying to get to the bottom of the story.
“Why are the taxpayers continuing the pay her salary for another month if she resigned?” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House press briefing.
“The president likes Omarosa,” Sanders said. She confirmed again that Manigault had resigned but would be paid until Jan. 20 because “there’s a lot of different protocols that take place in the government.”
Other White House sources were quoted in gossipy stories detailing how Manigault had “tripped the alarm” while trying to barge into the White House residence to take up her case with President Trump before she was escorted out. The New York Post ran an illustration on its cover of Manigault being dragged from the executive mansion.
Manigault disputed those stories in her interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” saying she left of her own volition but hinting that certain aspects of her 11-month stay made her “unhappy.”
“When I have my story to tell as the only African American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people,” Manigault said. “And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.”
The political narrative on her time in the White House has already been written — and it doesn’t reflect well on her. Story after story described her wandering the halls of the White House aimlessly or ineffectively representing Trump before the groups she was hired to cultivate. Her appearance during a panel at the National Association of Black Journalists convention devolved into a screaming match, for instance.
She seemed cast in the same role in the White House that she had on “The Apprentice,” where she was the show’s elegant and icy villain competing for Trump’s favor against 15 other contestants. “I’m not here to make friends,” she said then, and butted heads with almost everyone else on the show.
Manigault has long disputed her depiction as an anti-hero.
“What you see on the show is a gross misrepresentation of who I am,” she told The Washington Post in 2004. “This show is about ratings,” she noted, and she was pitted against the other female contestants because it was “dramatic.”
Still, at different points during her White House tenure Manigault has referred to herself as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” and “Lady Newman,” in reference to her married name, which prompted cackles in Washington. And she seemed to make few friends during her time in the West Wing. On Thursday, she complained of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s “militaristic style.”
She returned to the airwaves for a “Nightline” interview that aired in the wee hours Friday morning on ABC to defend her former boss, saying Trump “is not a racist” despite his repeated conflicts with people of color.
“Yes, I will acknowledge many of the exchanges, particularly in the last six months, have been racially charged,” Manigault said. “Do we then just stop and label him as a racist? No.”
As the story of her exit wore on, annoyance grew in many corners. The usually upbeat GMA co-host Robin Roberts looked exasperated to even have to discuss the matter. “She said she has a story to tell, and I’m sure she’ll be selling. . . . Bye, Felicia,” said Roberts, using a catchphrase from the movie “Friday” to summarily dismiss Manigault.
Roland Martin, the host of a morning news show on TV One, arrived in the studio to tape his show Thursday morning and learned his producers had reserved a segment to assess her resignation. Martin cut it down to three minutes and began the conversation by saying three times: “I don’t give a damn.”
“Here we were the day after black women in particular were on the ground in Alabama helping to raise money and get out the vote to defeat Roy Moore, [and] I simply was not going to debase myself by having a back-and-forth over what happened to Omarosa,” Martin said later. “I was choosing to bask in the glory of what black folks did in Alabama.”
But Manigault’s friend Monique Pressley called the entire episode “a shame.” Pressley, who was a bridesmaid in Manigault’s wedding and her friend of 20 years, sees racism and sexism in both the gawking fascination and backlash that has greeted the story.
“We see the highest-ranking African American female in our current administration being disrespected, dehumanized and minimized — not just by people at large, but by first and foremost other African Americans,” said Pressley, an attorney. “I wonder if it were Kellyanne Conway [who resigned]. . . if she would have gotten a ‘Later Becky’ the way Omarosa received a ‘Bye Felicia,’ or do we just reserve these guttural colloquialisms for people who look like us?”
Missing in the conversation, said Pressley, is a larger concern about representation in the Trump administration.
“Now, I look at a table of 30 senior staffers and there are no people of color,” she said. “She was in the room, [but] now what? She’s someone who has served in the National Guard, has been a professor; she’s someone who has multiple degrees, a member of the clergy. I just refuse to see her as some ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ person. . . . I don’t have a doubt that she’ll be fine.”
Manigault might agree. “The White House is not my ceiling,” she told “Nightline’s” Deborah Roberts. “It’s just the beginning.”
Updated at 9:30 a.m.
Paul Farhi contributed to this report.