The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a civil complaint against Omarosa Manigault Newman, accusing the former reality TV show contestant who served as an aide to President Trump of failing to file a required financial disclosure report after she left the White House.
The six-page complaint alleges that Manigault Newman — who had a significant falling out with Trump and last year released a book depicting him as an unqualified racist — violated the Ethics in Government Act when she did not file the report within 30 days of leaving her position. It asks a federal judge to compel her to file and impose a civil penalty of “up to $50,000.”
In a lengthy statement, John M. Phillips, Manigault Newman’s attorney, said the White House had chosen “to abuse process and use the Department of Justice to carry out retaliation” and called the complaint “yet another attempt to silence a dissenting voice.”
Phillips said it was “untrue” that Manigault Newman had “ ‘knowingly and willfully’ failed to file a report” and accused the White House of withholding documents necessary to finish the disclosure.
“We requested an extension until her documents could be returned,” Phillips said. “However, despite my client’s best efforts, the Department of Justice or the White House continues to withhold these documents, which are needed to complete the disclosure.”
Manigault Newman rose to prominence on the first season of Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice,” playing a villain who would undercut her competitors to win. She did not win but earned the admiration of Trump.
When he campaigned to be president, Manigault Newman was one of the few prominent African Americans to support him, and early in his administration, she served as the White House’s director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. But in government — as on TV — she developed a reputation as a brash, polarizing figure and was ultimately pushed out by then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
After departing, Manigault Newman published an incendiary book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” offering an unflattering account of what it was like to work in the administration and claiming she was offered a $15,000-a-month contract from Trump’s campaign to stay silent after being fired. The White House said at the time that the book was riddled with falsehoods.
The Justice Department’s complaint claims that Manigault Newman received a briefing in December 2017 telling her she had to file a “termination financial disclosure report” by Jan. 18, 2018, and an ethics attorney in the White House Counsel’s Office followed up with an email just before the end of the year reminding her of the obligation. The complaint, signed by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Division, claims Manigault Newman did not respond.
On Jan. 3, 2018, an ethics attorney in the White House Counsel’s Office sent her another email, according to the complaint, and on Jan. 12, an attorney followed up to see whether she had questions.
When Jan. 18 passed without Manigault Newman filing the financial disclosure report, a White House attorney emailed to say she might face a $200 late filing fee, according to the complaint.
The complaint says the White House Counsel’s Office followed up in the ensuing months, and in March 2018, Manigault Newman called to discuss the matter. The complaint does not detail what each side said, but it alleges that later that day, Stefan Passantino, then-deputy counsel to the president, wrote to tell her she had to file the report. According to the complaint, she still has not done so.
Phillips accused the administration of making the complaint public before Manigault Newman “was served or even had a chance to read it.” He said that in “several” calls and emails to the White House, Manigault Newman had discussed the need to get the contents of seven boxes that were taken by White House lawyers, including Passantino. He said it was not until May 10, 2019, that “they agreed to provide documents or even acknowledged their existence.”
“We requested an extension until her documents could be returned,” he said, adding, “We will pick up these materials immediately and have requested same repeatedly. Omarosa Manigault Newman cannot even get a straight answer about the amount of materials wrongfully possessed.”
The Executive Office of the President at some point referred the case to the Justice Department, and the complaint’s filing was authorized March 17, 2019, according to court documents.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.