Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James says she was “blocked” from serving in President Donald Trump’s administration by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide and reality television star.
“It was Omarosa,” James said in an interview with POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast, discussing how she has not managed to land a job in the administration despite her conservative bona fides.
“The way it was described to me is she approached the whole thing like it was ‘The Apprentice,‘” James added. “So she looked around Washington and said, ‘OK, who do I need to get rid of first?’”
Manigault Newman, a former “Apprentice” star and vocal Trump surrogate in 2016, was the highest-ranking African-American adviser in the White House, serving as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. She announced her resignation from the late last year, though reports later suggested she had been fired from the West Wing after butting heads with chief of staff John Kelly.
Trump’s White House has been rapped for a lack of diversity and for having few women in senior positions, especially with the exits of Manigault Newman and Hope Hicks, the communications director. Critics also say the administration has experienced turmoil because Trump brought in many inexperienced Washington hands.
James, the first African-American female president of Heritage, led Trump’s transition team for several offices in the White House. Following the inauguration, James — a longtime conservative who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and later as George W. Bush’s Office of Personnel Management director — said she had been excited for a possible spot in the administration.
In the interview with Women Rule, James said she had been eager to work on the president’s “urban agenda.” Trump, who had outlined his “New Deal for Black America” in Charlotte, North Carolina, just two weeks before the election, promised to build up law enforcement in African-American communities, crack down on illegal immigration, and increase business investment in low-income neighborhoods.
“If he was serious about getting those things done — and I believed him to be, and I still do believe that he is — then I saw an opportunity to do things that perhaps hadn’t existed in a Republican administration before,” James said. “I was very looking forward to an opportunity to serve in that White House in some capacity to help maybe on domestic policy, maybe in the Office of Public Liaison — in any of those capacities to get the job done.”
For James, those opportunities never came. Instead she shifted gears, and, as a longtime Heritage board member, led the search for the think tank’s new chief, following the ouster of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), then Heritage’s president. James later became the foundation’s choice, and she took the reins earlier this year.
After Manigault Newman’s departure from the West Wing earlier this year, James said the administration became more welcoming.
“The day she left, the doors of the White House flung open, and they said, ‘Come,’” she said.
Manigault Newman did not respond to a request for comment.
Since returning to a career in reality television, Manigault Newman has been critical of the Trump White House. During an episode of “Celebrity Big Brother“ that aired in February, she warned America that Vice President Mike Pence was “scary.” In another, she told a fellow Big Brother contestant that the country was “going to not be OK” under Trump. And during the season’s debut episode, she hinted at the tense relationships between her and the rest of the White House staff.
"There’s a lot of people that want to stab me in the back, kind of similar to the White House," Manigault Newman said. "The one thing that I learned from politics is you have to watch your back, and sometimes you have to watch your front, too."