It’s nearly 9 a.m. in the West Wing lobby. The room is quiet save for two staff assistants whispering about weekend plans, and me, waiting on an over-firm red sofa to meet with Omarosa Manigault.
When she glides in she is statuesque, wearing a sleeveless sheath, her legs long and bare. It’s St. Patrick’s Day and it’s 28 degrees outside. “You must be freezing,” I say. She lets out a sing-song laugh that cracks the silence.
“No,” she says. “I’m hot-blooded.”
We had arranged an hour-long interview. So it’s a surprise when Omarosa leads me into the Roosevelt Room, scans the space, points to a couch, and, with the reverence one might grant two open barstools at Starbucks, says, “Let’s just sit here.” Two maids dusting the large wooden table trade confused glances. A woman leans in the doorway. “Just so you know,” she says, “Bannon”—as in Steve, the then chief strategist—“could walk in at any minute with the Egyptians.” It’s no bother, Omarosa responds. “We’ll just be a few minutes.”
She turns back to me. “So,” she says. “What do you want to talk about?”
There’s been some confusion about Omarosa’s precise role in this White House. She is formally the communications director for the Office of Public Liaison, the same office where Kal Penn of Harold & Kumar fame worked. But I wanted Omarosa to help me understand what keeps her busy during the workday and how one of the biggest reality stars of the early aughts—apart from her own boss—was reshaping the administration.
Before Ivanka, before Jared, before even Melania, Omarosa was the most prolific one-named celebrity in Donald Trump’s orbit. Her role as a surrogate on his campaign was the reward for 13 years of unshakable devotion, beginning as America’s favorite villain on The Apprentice, where she curried favor with Trump for her bombast. She returned later as a contestant on the spin-off Celebrity Apprentice, where she dumped wine on Piers Morgan’s head.
Now a senior White House staffer banking the highest recorded salary allowable ($179,700 per year), Omarosa remains a mystery to many members of Washington’s political class and even her White House colleagues.
But on this particular Friday morning, Omarosa simply does not have the time to explain what, exactly, it is that she does. She can give me 15 minutes at most, she says, despite the hour-long appointment. It’s a very, very busy day, she tells me, and asks if I’d rather shadow her for the morning. “You can see me in action,” she says.
She tells me to hurriedly stuff my bag under her desk—a plain, shared space near the Oval Office that she uses apart from her office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We’ve got to get a move-on, she says. There are menus to finalize and place settings to set. There’s a white floral number to change into, and three different shades of MAC foundation to blend.
Today isn’t just any ordinary day, it turns out. Yes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting, and the president has last-minute health care negotiations with Republican leadership. But much more crucially, it’s bridal luncheon day at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and Omarosa is getting married.
This is not Omarosa’s first tour of the White House. At age 23, before she became a reality TV star, the Howard University grad worked under Vice President Al Gore with the title of “special assistant of logistics.” Then she bounced around a bit, working for President Bill Clinton in the personnel office, and finally at the Commerce Department. Writing in her 2008 book, The Bitch Switch—her “step-by-step guide for locating your inner BITCH, personalizing your switch, and knowing when to turn it on and when to turn it off”—she called her unnamed boss in personnel “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” someone who “constantly sabotaged her efforts.” There was no love lost. By the time she landed at Commerce, Cheryl Shavers, Clinton’s undersecretary for technology, told People magazine that Omarosa “was asked to leave as quickly as possible… One woman wanted to slug her.”
This go-around seems different, at least so far. Perhaps the venomous exchanges are a relic of her boardroom days. “She’s a lot softer now,” says Katrina Campins, Omarosa’s Apprentice roommate and bridesmaid. Indeed, if there’s any animosity between Omarosa and current White House staffers, it doesn’t show. She greets women with a “Hey, girl!” departs with a “later, gator.” She mingles with communications staff in the Navy mess hall, trading compliments on their dresses. “Mine’s not even fancy!” she says. “It’s Tahari!” She orders grits and sausage from the mess, which, for reasons that remain unclear, we do not pick up, but instead sashay along to the next task. Omarosa is in a smashing mood.
And why shouldn’t she be? In just a few hours, she’s hosting her eight bridesmaids, plus her mother, Theresa Manigault—AKA Momarosa—and fiancé, Rev. John Allen Newman, in the White House for a St. Patrick’s Day-themed bridal luncheon. There, waiters will serve appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Presaged by a shamrock-bordered invitation, the luncheon is the kickoff event of Omarosa’s bridal shower.
“It was a good way to spend time with her before the wedding got underway,” bridesmaid and former fellow Clinton staffer Aisha McClendon would tell me of the White House gathering.
But it’s not yet lunchtime, so morning duties still loom. Outside the mess hall, we stop at the lectern of a security guard—A.J.—who indulges a giddy Omarosa by showing her a photo of the themed invitation on his computer. Her iPhone starts ringing—her fiance’s name, followed by a unicorn emoji, flashes across the screen. “Hey, baby,” she says. “Can I call you on my secure line?”
It’s tough to sneak in a question to Omarosa—about her job, her life, her goals, about where exactly we are heading at this precise moment—because we are always walking, quickly and seemingly aimlessly across the West Wing, and in and out of rooms at the EEOB. At some point we are looking for a certain Josh, though we don’t ever locate him, and I never find out why he’s needed. As we knock on the door to one office, she finally muffles an answer as to what we’re doing: “… the faith communities, does anyone need to be blessed…”
Many of her answers go this way, with sentences accomplishing the syntactical feat of never seeming to begin or end. Or they begin and end at the same time: “Everything,” she says when I ask about the contents of her job portfolio right now.
But never mind that, because Omarosa has a luncheon to host. She even brought a new dress for today’s event. She shows it to me as we stop next in her EEOB office, a light-drenched space a little larger than the average American living room. Adorning the walls and tables are three long gowns, clusters of makeup, an array of hair tools, and a few pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage. Today’s outfit—a white shift dress printed with red and pink and purple flowers—is draped across a chair.
Omarosa’s White House life is a constant blend of the weighty business of the U.S. government and the never-ending personal demands of that very moment. We bump into National Trade Council chairman Peter Navarro, who is dressed in workout attire and carrying in one hand a copy of his own book, Death By China, and in the other a box of Mesa Sunrise cereal. “O-ma-ro-sa!” Navarro says, drawing out each syllable of her name. He asks if she’s planning to go on Dancing With the Stars. No, she tells him. Unfortunately her foot is still healing, the result of a fall while jumping into the motorcade in January. Navarro gives her tips on how to exercise it. But before he finishes we have to get going. Later, gator.
We walk to a door close to the White House side of EEOB. Suddenly, Omarosa turns to me.
“Well, I’ve enjoyed this first part,” she says. “When do you want to do the second part?”
Alas, that second interview would never happen. In a trend familiar to lovelorn folks nationwide, Omarosa ghosted me. Dozens of calls, emails, and texts over the course several months have gone unreturned.
After the abrupt end to our day in March, I called a Republican source in constant contact with the White House and asked what they thought Omarosa’s job entailed. “No clue,” the source said. I told the source about our whirlwind of a morning.
“Wait, Hope [Hicks] let you follow [Omarosa] around?” the source asked. No, I hadn’t spoken with Hope, who now serves formally as the White House communications director. “So Sean [Spicer] let you?” Ditto. “Christ,” the source said. “No one in the comms department knew a random reporter was walking around the West Wing. This is why people think we’re a shit show.”
Ultimately, in my quest to better understand what, exactly, Omarosa does each day, I learned little more than the fact that she was getting married. I reached out to then deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders to find out more about the bridal luncheon—whether it was normal, in the middle of a workday, for a staffer to use the White House for a personal event? Did taxpayers, or Omarosa herself foot the bill?
“I have no idea… I will try to track her down,” Sanders responded. On Friday, a senior White House official emailed: “She did not have a bridal lunch but did invite her bridesmaids to have lunch with her in the navy mess which all commissioned officers are allowed to do.”
Since then, Omarosa got married. It was April 8, with a cherry-blossom-themed ceremony in none other than the Trump Hotel in D.C. (Her gown, a $6,500 YKA Makino piece, was part of her compensation for appearing on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress.) Then there was her letter to the Congressional Black Caucus in June, in which she invited members to a meeting with President Trump, signing it, “The Honorable Omarosa Manigault.” As Politico reported, “Multiple CBC members said they were put off… saying she hasn’t earned that title nor has she helped raise the profile of CBC issues within the White House as promised.”
And while she does pop up in White House press briefings from time to time, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to which ones. During our morning together, for example, she toyed with whether or not to attend that day’s session. “I may go, I may not,” she said.
If Omarosa’s White House sounds less like a storied institution than a personal playground, well, that’s precisely because she intends it to be. As she writes in The Bitch Switch, a woman in control—of her life, of her relationships, of her career—“determines her own rules of engagement for every situation.”
She may be perfect for this administration after all.
Updated: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Kal Penn held the same job as Omarosa Manigault. We regret the error.