Omarosa’s West Wing bridal adventure highlights broader dysfunction
One Saturday in early April, Omarosa Manigault caused a stir in the White House.
The “Apprentice” villain turned senior White House official brought members of her 39-person bridal party to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an extended wedding photo shoot, catching fellow senior aides and some security officials by surprise in her bridal attire. The visitors loudly wandered around, looking to snap photos in the Rose Garden and throughout the West Wing, according to four current and former White House officials.
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While it’s unclear whether she received formal permission for the photo shoot, at least some lawyers and other senior aides were not briefed in advance, the officials said. They quickly banned Manigault, director of communications for the Office of the Public Liaison, from posting the pictures online, citing security and ethical concerns.
The incident — which created buzz in the West Wing for weeks — did little to help the reputation of the Office of Public Liaison, seen by some White House officials as one of the most unruly and under-utilized operations in the West Wing, according to eight current and former White House officials and advisers.
The office has floundered for months, these people say, and has drawn particular scrutiny from Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has asked for changes.
The Office of the Public Liaison is barely known outside government-insider circles. It functions mainly to cultivate outside support for the president’s agenda, working with business, religious and other groups to garner support. The office’s staff sets up events in the White House for community groups like veterans associations and special honorees, attends conferences and events to promote the president and works to create outside political and civic campaigns.
The operation could prove especially useful for Trump, who so far has largely been blocked from carrying out his legislative agenda, which includes a repeal of Obamacare, an overhaul of the tax code and a massive infrastructure package.
Those who have worked in the office in the past say it is an important component to building support for the White House’s agenda.
“The president had a very strong belief that if you bring people into the process early on, that they will have a stake in it and be more likely to work with you,” said Bobbie Kilberg, who ran the office under President George H.W. Bush. “We were trying to build large coalitions across all areas.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that the office’s operations have been bumpy in the first year. She said the White House is adding staff to the office and that it is undergoing a revamp.
“It’s pretty safe to say the early months were not as smooth as they could have been,” she said.
But she also defended the office, saying it had done valuable work reaching out to veterans and religious groups — and that the office had conducted “dozens and dozens” of listening sessions. She added that the operation had worked hard during the confirmation process of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch to build outside support.
And some outside groups, including religious ones, said they’d had lots of access to Trump. “You talk to religious leaders, and you hear that they’ve been in in the past eight months more than the past eight years,” said Ralph Reed, who leads the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Still, even in a White House riven by chaos in the early months, the office gained notoriety for being a “dumpster fire place to work,” one former senior official said.
Aides in other departments didn’t know what the office did, and George Sifakis, who was named the office’s director in March, gave employees little direction or authority, several officials said. On many days, the staff — about a dozen aides — didn’t know what Sifakis was doing or what they were supposed to be doing, several officials said.
Sifakis declined to comment on the record. A Sifakis ally said many of the events went well, and that he had a far smaller staff than previous offices, but some White House officials don’t agree with that assessment.
“There was no organization, no calendar, nothing,” one former official said.