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- Fired White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s orbit to have secretly recorded him and his allies.
- Last month, it was revealed that Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen had secretly recorded the president in September 2016, as well as others on more than 100 audio recordings seized by the government in April raids on his properties.
- Multiple outlets reported that other aides are concerned about who else is possibly recording the president or their colleagues.
Within a month, it was revealed that two prominent members of President Donald Trump’s orbit secretly recorded conversations with him and others.
It raises the question of just how commonplace the practice is of secretly recording conversations with the president and his allies.
The first secret recordings belonged to the president’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, who is currently under criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York. Included in the more than 4 million documents seized by the FBI in April raids on Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room were more than 100 audio recordings that Cohen made.
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, released one audio recording to CNN recently. That tape contained a September 2016 conversation between Cohen and Trump in which the two men discuss buying the rights to the story of a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump years ago. Trump was said to be unaware he was being recorded.
Meanwhile, a person close to the Trump legal team who heard the remaining 11 Cohen tapes told Business Insider last month that they contain conversations between Cohen and third parties about Trump, not direct discussions between Trump and Cohen.
The second set of secret recordings were released by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison and “The Apprentice” contestant who is on a publicity tour for her tell-all book about working in Trump’s White House.
She released a trio of secret audio recordings from her time working for Trump. One was of chief of staff John Kelly, which was made by Manigault Newman in the White House Situation Room while he was firing her last year. Another was of her conversation with Trump that immediately followed her firing.
A third recording was of a conversation between her and Lynn Patton, then-assistant to Eric Trump, and then-campaign officials Jason Miller and Katrina Pierson, in which they discussed an alleged tape of the president saying the N-word.
Manigault Newman has claimed that she heard this tape after the book was published. Patton and Pierson have said the story was not true and that, to their knowledge, no such tape exists. Trump has vehemently denied using the word, and has called Manigault Newman a “dog” and “deranged.”
Who else is making tapes?
The latest releases have led to Trump aides wondering if other staffers have similar tapes. Several senior aides told CNN on Monday they doubted Manigault Newman was the only White House staffer making such recordings. And The Post reported Trump administration officials have long suspected that their colleagues recorded conversations with the president and one another to use for personal gain.
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But a former administration official who discussed the matter with Business Insider said they were “confident” that other Trump staffers were not acting like Manigault Newman and “maliciously recording private conversations in the White House.”
And Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, denied to Business Insider that the president’s legal team is worried that any other staffers aside from Cohen and Manigault Newman made such recordings. He also denied that there is an active effort by the president’s legal team to find out whether other staffers have made similar recordings.
Both of the most recent instances followed up a May revelation by The New York Times that a junior White House aide was found to be taping his meetings with Trump so he could later play them to impress friends.
Trump is no stranger to secret recordings
Of course, Trump himself was notorious for making such recordings during his lengthy career as a businessman.
Last year, after Trump threatened to release tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey – which he later said he did not make – three people with direct knowledge of the recordings told The Wall Street Journal that Trump sometimes taped phone calls from his Trump Tower office.
Somewhat ironically, it was Cohen who provided an on-the-record response seeking to refute The Journal’s 2017 report.
“In the decade that I worked for Mr. Trump, I have never seen a recording device attached to his phone, nor am I aware of any occasion where he taped a conversation,” he told The Journal.
John O’Donnell, who was president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in the 1980s and author of “Trumped!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump,” told The Post last year there “was never any sense with Donald of the phone being used for private conversation.”
“Talking on the phone with Donald was a public experience,” he added. “You never knew who else was listening.”
Why Cohen and Omarosa felt the need to record Trump and his allies
The existence of both Cohen’s and Manigault Newman’s recordings showed that for some close to Trump, there was a need to have both him and his associates recorded for some sort of future use or leverage, though why both of them felt the need for such leverage is still unclear.
Mitchell Epner, a former assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey and an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich, told Business Insider that the fact Cohen and Manigault Newman recorded conversations with Trump “provides strong evidence of a spirit of distrust that Donald Trump would accurately recount and/or recall the contents of their conversations – whether through failure of memory or purposeful deceit.”
Of Manigault Newman’s tapes, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said, “it’s better to view this whole drama as an insight into the character of the people involved in the nature of the White House rather than a legal issue.”
Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson on Monday summed up why Cohen and Manigault Newman felt the need to make those secret recordings.
He wrote: “What we do know is why people in Trump’s orbit feel they need such insurance: Dishonor and disloyalty start at the top.”