Conflict and controversy seem to follow Omarosa Manigault, who stirred up plenty of both as a reality-TV star and a longtime associate of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Manigault, who is now a communications official in the Trump administration, got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.
Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.
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Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.
Manigault appeared on Trump’s reality programs, The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, where she became known as a combative personality skilled in undercutting rivals. She also worked on his presidential campaign, appearing multiple times as a surrogate in TV interviews. Trump appointed her director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison in January.
The encounter between Manigault and Ryan took place outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.
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Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.
Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”
Spicer did not respond to a request for comment.
The argument apparently stemmed from emails that Manigault sent to Ryan during the presidential campaign.
In October, Manigault sent Ryan an email raising questions about whether Ryan was being paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign - a claim Ryan vigorously denies. Manigault included a link to an article from the Intercept, which covers national security issues.
The article detailed the Clinton campaign’s effort to secure favorable media coverage by “manipulating” reporters; it included a list compiled by Clinton staffers of TV surrogates who were part of the campaign. It published a separate list of journalists, including Ryan, whom the campaign hoped to influence but were not paid by the Clintons.
“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.”
Manigault sent a second email to Ryan a few minutes later. It read, “Protect your legacy!! You have worked too hard to have people question your ethics as a journalist. People talking trash about the reporters on that list having NO integrity. It’s hurtful to hear people say those things about you.”
Ryan said she was devastated by any intimation that she was unethical. “It’s just ugly,” she said. “She’s trying to harm my integrity and my career. I’ve been [covering the White House] for 20 years. I plan to be here for the next 20 years. You don’t mess with someone’s livelihood.”
During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African-American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.
Ryan said she dismissed the idea of any such dossiers. “I said, ‘Good for you, good for you, good for you.’ “
Until Manigault sent the emails in the fall, Ryan said, the two women had been friends; Manigault had even asked her to be a bridesmaid in her forthcoming wedding. Ryan has declined.
The Rev. Marcia Dyson, who knows both women, said: “I hope both can do their jobs professionally and well and they put this behind them. Because all I see are two heartbroken friends.”
Manigault reportedly was harassed by two unidentified people while recently shopping with her bridesmaids at a Nordstrom’s store in Virginia. After a brief argument, Manigault called the store’s security staff, which escorted her to her car.
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