One of Donald Trump’s most loyal backers, reality TV star Omarosa Manigault, is playing a significant role in Trump’s transition, potentially setting her up for a post in the White House.
Manigault has emerged as Trump’s emissary to a broad array of interest groups inside and outside Washington on issues of diversity, political outreach and hiring for his nascent administration.
Manigault recently met with veterans groups in Washington. Last weekend, she flew to Atlanta to address an annual meeting of presidents of the country’s historically black colleges. At the events, she signaled her growing role in Trump’s transition as a senior adviser leading the Office of Nationwide Engagement.
She is said to have an open line of communication with the president-elect, with whom she developed a close relationship after becoming the breakout star of the first season of “The Apprentice.”
In a brief interview, Manigault said that she speaks with Trump regularly and that her mandate is to prioritize diversity in the transition.
“I come to the table with a different perspective than a lot of folks,” said Manigault, who was Trump’s director of African-American outreach in the campaign. “In the sense that I know him from ‘The Apprentice,’ in the sense of what we did to make that franchise a success.”
Manigault declined to discuss whether she would serve in the White House.
“My only interest is in serving at the pleasure of the president, so any role that he sees necessary for me, I’ll answer that call,” she said.
As word spreads about her role in the transition, chatter has intensified that she is poised to fill a role similar to that held by one of President Barack Obama’s most powerful aides, Valerie Jarrett, who heads up the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House.
Manigault’s presence in transition meetings has also raised some eyebrows among Washington veterans puzzled by the presence of a television personality in meetings typically characterized by policy wonks and political hands.
Asked about the potential for Manigault to play a role in the Trump White House, one Trump ally who is in regular contact with his senior aides remarked, “Oh, please. I am speechless.”
Some advocates who attended a recent meeting with veterans groups said privately that they were surprised to see her there, given that she does not have expertise in veterans health care, benefits or the complexities of the sprawling Veterans Affairs agency.
She told the group of 30 advocacy organizations that the Trump administration will do right by veterans and intends to make their issues a priority, several participants said. Then she gave out her email address and urged those interested in a job in the administration, or with leads on potential job candidates, to contact her.
“She was gracious and articulate, and while she wasn’t saying things of a policy nature, it was clear that this is a person who knows how to talk to groups,” said Jeffrey Phillips, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, who served in the Department of Veterans Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
Another person familiar with a recent meeting Omarosa attended with criminal-justice advocates also said she was well-received in the “listening session” with the groups. During the campaign, Trump had struck a tough-on-crime tone, denouncing Black Lives Matter and blaming activists for violence against police officers.
Manigault is aware of the perception that her reality TV fame and lack of high-level experience in Washington make her an odd fit for a top White House post.
She emphasized that before “The Apprentice,” she had “come out of Washington.” She studied at Howard University and later taught at Howard’s business school. In the 1990s, Manigault worked in a series of jobs in the Clinton administration in the White House and briefly in the Commerce Department.
Shortly after her appearance on “The Apprentice,” Manigault’s former administration co-workers began speaking out.
“She was asked to leave as quickly as possible, she was so disruptive,” Cheryl Shavers, the former undersecretary for technology at the Commerce Department, said of Manigault in a 2004 People magazine story. “One woman wanted to slug her.”
Just as Trump used controversy to dominate media coverage in his presidential race, Manigault skillfully used her reputation as the “villain” on “The Apprentice” as a catapult to fame.
But for Trump, Manigault has taken on the role of bridge builder, representing the president-elect in unexpected places, including at the meeting with the presidents of historically black colleges and universities.
Black colleges are fighting for more federal support and investment, said Lezli Baskerville, president and chief executive of the Washington-based National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, which hosted last Sunday’s brunch, and Manigault has a “long and deep connection” with them.
“She was thoughtful and eager to engage,” Baskerville said.