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In response, Manigault-Newman said the reason that Heritage’s Kay Coles James wasn’t offered a position in the administration is “because she hates Donald Trump.”
James, the first black president at the conservative think tank, told Politico on Wednesday that Manigault-Newman had treated her role in Trump’s universe like it was The Apprentice. “So she looked around Washington and said, 'OK, who do I need to get rid of first?'” James said.
Manigault-Newman insisted that's not the case, saying James, a veteran political operative, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, was flagged early in the transition process as a “Never Trump” Republican who was known to be “disgusted” by the president.
Manigault-Newman said she was taken aback by James’ comments. “When I met with her, she was very explicit that she hated Trump, but she loved the Republican Party's agenda,” she said, adding that James told her she was open to working with the administration but that she would have to “hold her nose while doing it” with Trump as the leader of the party.
“Kay Cole James is trying to scapegoat me instead of dealing with the fact that Reince [Priebus] and the rest of the transition team did not want her within a mile of the White House,” said Manigault-Newman.
James did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
Manigault-Newman, who was recently was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, in which she threw several barbs about White House dysfunction, including a bit about her former boss’s use of Twitter, also characterized James' use of The Apprentice to make her point about as “insulting” to Trump.
“By insulting The Apprentice, she is essentially insulting President Trump,” she said. “The Apprentice was his brainchild. He was the star of the show and was very proud of it. Utilizing the show in that way is not only an insult to the president, but she is continuing to show her hand as a Never Trump Republican by trying to trivialize its success.”
James supported Jeb Bush in the primary. As late as May 2016, James was part of a group of prominent black conservative activists who were strategizing ways to work with Trump, even as they remained highly skeptical of his style of campaigning and prospects for winning.
Black conservatives’ agenda remains sharply focused on issues like expanding economic opportunity, especially increasing access to capital for small businesses. Many have also sought to work with principals like Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul on big projects like a criminal justice overhaul. In Trump, James told Politico she saw a potential ally.
“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,” said James, according to Politico. “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.”
In a profile of Manigault-Newman last year, BuzzFeed News reported in detail on her role in Trump’s orbit. Some of her portfolio seemed informal in nature, such as spearheading the administration’s efforts focused on black Americans — or keeping senior official abreast of operatives who had not been sufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign at bay.
According to Manigault-Newman, James lobbied Priebus for a period of time after the election to appoint her to a high-profile position in the White House. James joined Trump’s transition team, which was all but forced to hire experienced hands, regardless of whether they had been loyal to Trump.
The question is not if she blocked James from an appointment, Manigault-Newman said, but “why her appointment wasn’t made by Reince.”
“Why wasn’t she appointed like everybody else? Did she help on the campaign, or with any events? Did she do any outreach or engagement? How much money did she raise for the campaign?
Regardless of her status inside the White House, James’ appointment to Heritage Foundation president was a big deal; she is the first black woman to be named to the post, and it was widely viewed as a coup for the black conservative movement, which has been processing various stages of a prolonged identity crisis. Issues of race and inclusion have only exacerbated by the Trump movement’s nationalist, anti-immigrant leanings, activists say.