Recording in White House Situation Room upsets Trump’s crew

Omarosa Manigault-Newman, (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Former presidential adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman is drawing fire from President Donald Trump’s allies and national security experts for secret recordings she made at the White House, including her firing by chief of staff John Kelly in the high-security Situation Room.

Manigault Newman said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she surreptitiously recorded a number of conversations in the White House for her own protection. Parts of her conversation with Kelly were played on the air. Critics denounced the recordings as a serious breach of ethics and security.

“Who in their right mind thinks it’s appropriate to secretly record the White House chief of staff in the Situation Room?” tweeted Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

In the recording, which Manigault Newman quotes extensively in her new book, “Unhinged,” Kelly can be heard saying that he wants to talk with Manigault Newman about leaving the White House. The Associated Press independently listened to the recording of the conversation.

“It’s come to my attention over the last few months that there’s been some pretty, in my opinion, significant integrity issues related to you,” Kelly is heard saying, citing her use of government vehicles and “money issues and other things” that he compares to offenses that could lead to a court martial in the military.

“If we make this a friendly departure … you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation and then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation,” he tells Manigault Newman, adding: “There are some serious legal issues that have been violated and you’re open to some legal action that we hope, we think, we can control.”

Manigault Newman said she viewed the conversation as a “threat” and defended her decision to covertly record it and other White House conversations.

“If I didn’t have these recordings, no one in America would believe me,” she said.

The response from the White House was stinging. “The very idea a staff member would sneak a recording device into the White House Situation Room, shows a blatant disregard for our national security – and then to brag about it on national television further proves the lack of character and integrity of this disgruntled former White House employee,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

The Situation Room is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, where the nation’s most consequential foreign policy decisions are made, and staff are not permitted to bring in cellphones or other recording devices.

“I’ve never heard of a more serious breach of protocol,” said Ned Price, who served as spokesman of the National Security Council in the Obama administration. “Not only is it not typical, something like this is unprecedented.”

Price said there is no one checking staffers for devices at the door, but there is a sign outside the room making clear that electronic devices are prohibited.

“The Situation Room is the inner-most sanctum of a secure campus,” he said, describing the breach as part of a culture of disregarding security protocols in the Trump White House. He also questioned why Kelly would ever choose to have such a meeting there.

In the book, which will be released Tuesday, Manigault Newman paints a damning picture of Trump, including claiming without evidence that tapes exist of him using the N-word as he filmed his “The Apprentice” reality series, on which she co-starred.

Manigault Newman wrote in the book that she had not personally heard the recording. But she told Chuck Todd on Sunday that she later was able to hear a recording of Trump during a trip to Los Angeles.

“I heard his voice as clear as you and I are sitting here,” she said on the show.

The White House had previously tried to discredit the book, with Sanders calling it “riddled with lies and false accusations.” Trump on Saturday labeled Manigault Newman a “lowlife.”

Katrina Pierson, an adviser to Trump’s re-election campaign who served as a spokeswoman for his 2016 campaign, said she had never heard Trump use the kind of derogatory language Manigault Newman describes. She said in a statement that she feels “pity for Omarosa as she embarrasses herself by creating salacious lies and distortions just to try to be relevant and enrich herself by selling books at the expense of the truth. ‘Unhinged,’ indeed.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also questioned Manigault Newman’s credibility in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“The first time I ever heard Omarosa suggest those awful things about this president are in this book,” she said, noting Manigault Newman “is somebody who gave a glowing appraisal of Donald Trump the businessman, the star of the ‘The Apprentice,’ the candidate and, indeed, the president of the United States.”

Manigault Newman had indeed been a staunch defender of the president for years, including pushing back, as the highest-profile African-American in the White House, on accusations that he was racist.

But Manigault Newman now says she was “used” by Trump, calling him a “con” who “has been masquerading as someone who is actually open to engaging with diverse communities” and is “truly a racist.”

“I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation,” she said. “I had a blind spot where it came to Donald Trump.”

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Hope Yen contributed to this report from Washington.

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White House defends barring CNN reporter

President Donald Trump meets with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The White House on Thursday defended its decision to bar a CNN correspondent from attending an open press event but contended it had nothing to do with the questions she asked.

Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Kaitlan Collins was denied access to Trump’s Rose Garden event with the European Commission president on Wednesday because of her refusal to leave the Oval Office during a previous availability with the president. She and her employer, CNN, said she was barred because White House officials found her questions “inappropriate,” which Gidley disputed.

“It had nothing to do with the content of the question,” Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Donald Trump headed back to Washington from Iowa and Illinois.

Collins had served as a representative of the television networks during an earlier “pool spray” availability in the Oval Office. She and a handful of other reporters peppered the president with questions, including many focused on his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. A day earlier, CNN had obtained and aired a secret audio recording that captured Trump and Cohen discussing a potential payment to a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.

Gidley said Collins “was told repeatedly to leave the Oval Office.” She refused and stayed “despite staff, Secret Service, everyone trying to usher everyone out of the room,” Gidley said. “And that can’t happen.”

Other journalists who were in the room disputed the White House account.

Numerous reporters, including many from the European Union delegation, had been shouting questions, and, as usual, it took some time for the pack of journalists to file out the doors. Trump frequently answers reporters’ questions even as staffers try to usher them out of the room, creating sometimes-chaotic scenes where low-level press officers shout at reporters as the president tries to speak.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the White House had made clear that other CNN journalists were welcome at the Rose Garden event, just not Collins.

“To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House,” she said.

Earlier Thursday, White House communications chief Bill Shine quibbled with the use of the word “ban” in describing the action taken against Collins.

“Would you ask her if we ever used the word ‘ban’?” Shine told reporters.

And Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said the incident showed the need broadly for more “civility” between reporters and the White House.

“I think it should start here at the White House and just show a little bit more respect,” she said.

Asked whether Trump had directed the decision, Gidley replied: “The president does feel strongly about this.”

CNN, in a statement Wednesday, objected to the White House decision, calling it “retaliatory in nature” and “not indicative of an open and free press.”

“Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of the day doesn’t mean the question isn’t relevant and shouldn’t be asked,” the network said.

The White House Correspondents’ Association also issued a harshly worded statement condemning “the White House’s misguided and inappropriate decision … to bar one of our members from an open press event after she asked questions they did not like.”

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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Follow Jill Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Will Trump revoke security clearances? ‘Oh, he’s just trolling’

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan is dismissing President Donald Trump’s threat to revoke the security clearances of six former top national security and intelligence officials who have been critical of his administration.

“I think he’s just trolling people, honestly,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference Tuesday, addressing what opponents and experts say would be an unprecedented politicization of the clearance process.

“This is something that’s in the purview of the executive branch,” Ryan added with a laugh.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the president was “exploring the mechanisms” to strip clearance from former CIA Director John Brennan as well as five other former officials who have held some of the most sensitive positions in government: former FBI Director Jim Comey; James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice; and Andrew McCabe, who served as Trump’s deputy FBI director until he was fired in March.

The leaders have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, including Trump’s. But at least two of the former officials, McCabe and Comey, do not currently have security clearances, making the threat moot.

Sanders accused the officials of having “politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances” by making “baseless accusations” that the Trump administration had improper contact with Russia or was influenced by Russia.

“The fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” she said.

Sanders did not cite specific comments made by any of the officials. But the president has been seething over the backlash to his meeting last week with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, whether his campaign aides were involved in the effort and whether he obstructed justice.

Experts said there is some dispute about whether the president has the authority to unilaterally terminate a security clearance, but said such a move would be unprecedented and ill-advised.

“Legalities aside, it seems like a terrible mistake to use the security clearance system as an instrument of political vendettas,” said Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that “politicizing security clearances to retaliate against former national security officials who criticize the President would set a terrible new precedent.”

“An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic and un-American,” he added.

The threat to deny the officials access to classified information marks the latest escalation in the president’s ongoing war with the members of the U.S. intelligence community. It came hours after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted that he would be meeting with Trump to discuss revoking Brennan’s clearance for his scathing criticism of the president’s performance at the summit with Putin.

Paul publicly raised the idea of stripping Brennan’s security clearance — and pension — during appearances on Fox News last week, where he also called Brennan “the most biased, bigoted, over-the-top, hyperbolic sort of unhinged director of the CIA we’ve ever had.”

Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period, as a courtesy and so they can be in a position to advise their successors. The clearances are also sometimes required to work for government contractors.

While standing next to Putin, Trump last week openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow tried to tip the scales of the 2016 election in his favor and seemed to accept Putin’s insistence that Russia’s hands were clean.

Brennan slammed those comments as “nothing short of treasonous” and accused Trump of being “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

Clapper, reacting to the White House talk of revoking clearances, said on CNN that Trump’s idea was “kind of a petty way of retribution, I suppose, for speaking out against the president, which I think, on the part of all of us, are borne out of genuine concerns about President Trump.”

Hayden tweeted Monday that revoking his security clearance wouldn’t “have any effect on what I say or write.” And former Brennan deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro said Brennan “hasn’t made one penny off of his clearance” and “doesn’t need a security clearance to speak out against the failings of Trump.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for McCabe, tweeted that his security clearance was deactivated when he was terminated, per FBI policy.

“You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps,” she wrote.

Brookings Institution legal analyst Benjamin Wittes, a Comey friend, tweeted that he’d texted with Comey and that the former FBI director told him that he no longer has a security clearance and was “‘read out’ when he left government as per normal practice.”

Wittes added that Comey “declined a temporary clearance from the (inspector general) to read the classified annex to the IG’s recent report. He didn’t want to see any classified material lest the president accuse him of leaking it.”

As for whether Trump has the authority to do what Sanders suggested, Aftergood called it “a disputed question.”

John V. Berry, an attorney who regularly represents federal intelligence agency employees, said he didn’t see any reason the president wouldn’t be able to revoke clearance but that doing so would “be terrible for America” and “totally defeat the process of defending national security.”

“If we start interjecting politics into this, our country’s going to be significantly weakened,” Berry said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, said Trump had allowed his former national security adviser Michael Flynn “to keep his security clearance for weeks after the Justice Department warned that he was under investigation for lying about his secret conversations with the Russians” and “allowed his son-in-law Jared Kushner to keep his security clearance after repeatedly concealing his foreign contacts.”

“President Trump should get his own staff’s security clearances in order rather than engaging in crass political retribution against former officials,” Cummings said in a statement.

The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, told reporters he can understand Trump’s aggravation but accusing the former top officials of abusing their security clearance is “a very serious allegation and I want to see what the results are.”

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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