We shouldn’t cheer secret recordings in the White House

It is a brave new world out there, ladies and gentlemen, and I don’t think it is a better one.

Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former contestant on Donald Trump’s old show, “The Apprentice,” who later became a campaign aide and staffer in the West Wing, has dominated the news cycle this week for taping conversations in the White House, and now making them public. Several of those conversations portray the White House in an unflattering light, and the Trump administration is having a difficult time fighting back.

Manigault Newman, as always seems to be the case in such situations, is selling a book. In fact, the most salacious things currently in the news cycle are claims that are in her book, but have not been publicly proven, such as the claim that there is a tape that exists where Trump can be heard uttering a racial slur.

You’ll forgive me for my skeptical cynicism any time a person gets a massive book deal and is promoting said book on a book tour.

Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman speaks with The Associated Press on Tuesday in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Regardless, the situation does bring up some uncomfortable questions we need to ask ourselves. Chief among them, to me, is whether or not this is the world we want to live in.

Manigault Newman’s opening case against the Trump administration was a recording she made public that chronicled her termination by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Kelly told her that she was being fired for “pretty serious integrity violations,” and that if her departure from the White House was a friendly one that she could “look at [her] time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation.”

She claimed that the conversation was a “threat” because he also said that parting on friendly terms would let her leave the White House with her reputation intact. The press gobbled it up, of course, never bothering to think that Kelly was actually offering to do her a favor by not exposing her “serious integrity issues” to the public.

Setting aside the details of that particular back and forth, though, think for a minute about what happened there. Manigault Newman was in the Situation Room. With the door locked. Recording things.

She also recorded conversations on the phone with President Trump. Again, think about that. A disgruntled former aide recording the president of the United States, attempting to gain leverage and then later using the interaction to sell books.

In addition, she recorded colleagues and aides to the president as they talked through issues, including Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, and Lynne Patton, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s White House liaison, who can be heard discussing how to handle the aforementioned “racist tape” if it were to exist. Something that every political aide needs to do if a scandal rocks their boss.

Ultimately, it seems there are very few people that Manigault Newman didn’t record, which means that she likely knew for a while that she was on her way out, and wanted to get herself as much dirt as she could possibly find before that moment happened, so that she could profit on it later.

But back to my question. Set aside your own opinion about whether or not Trump is a good man, or the source of all evil in the universe. Set aside whether or not you think Manigault Newman is desperate for money and fame, or whether you think she’s showing us the real face of what happens in the Trump administration.

With all of that set aside, is that really the world we want to live in?

Do you want to live in a world where government officials and the aides that work for them, are constantly under surveillance, and perpetually worried that they’re being recorded? Do you want someone to be able to walk into the Situation Room and record what happens in there?

Maybe you think it is worth it, because it exposes the dark underbelly of government to the light of day. I can see the argument for that. I get it.

But honestly, I’m terrified of that reality. If this is the new normal, we will be driving candor and forthrightness completely out of government. Everyone will be watching what they say. People will not speak difficult truths if they feel their words will be misinterpreted in public, out of context. Leaders will be timid and overly politically correct, just to cover their own rear end.

That will have a horrifying impact on policy making. And worse, it will drive the real personalities of politicians and staffers further into the dark, guaranteeing that we see a fake, disingenuous reality.

That is a bad thing, and it is a bad thing no matter what party is in control in the White house. We shouldn’t encourage it.


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.