The list of people who know or may know something about an old reality-TV tape in which Donald Trump is allegedly heard saying racist and sexist things has grown but to date, no one has presented a scrap of evidence that it exists.
For nearly two years, Washington politicos and media types have been searching for this chimera tape from Trump’s years on NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” starting after he won the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016 and reaching a crescendo just before the November election.
The latest to dredge up the tape talk: Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former “Apprentice” contestant and ex-Trump loyalist who is currently promoting her White House tell-all book “Unhinged,” and comedian/magician Penn Jillette, who competed in the 2012 season of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
Omarosa says the tape exists, that she’s heard it and that her search for it got her fired from the White House. Jillette says the tape exists and he knows this because he was in the room with Trump when he said racist and sexist things during his season, which aired in 2012.
Penn Jillette: I know Trump tapes exist because ‘I was in the room’
Trump responds: President calls former aide Omarosa a ‘dog,’ triggering outrage
Who else is in a position to know whether such a tape exists? Let’s review the list of people associated with the story:
The first major flurry of speculation about a tape came in October 2016 after the leak of a real tape from NBC’s “Access Hollywood” in which Trump talked in graphically obscene terms of grabbing women’s genitals and getting away with it.
In the uproar that followed, Pruitt, a former “Apprentice” producer, tweeted that the “Access” tape was nothing compared to what he knew. “I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse. #justthebegininng,” his tweet read.
At first, Pruitt declined to elaborate. A year later, he said in interviews that Trump would regularly make racist, sexist and anti-Semitic statements on the set but he refused to go into much detail, citing the non-disclosure agreement he signed.
Manigault Newman, fired from her White House job in December, is now on a national book tour promoting her new tell-all about her brief time in Trump’s administration. Among other explosive allegations, she writes that she heard of the tape’s existence from three different “Apprentice sources” and that Pruitt has it. (Pruitt has denied that, undercutting Omarosa’s claims.)
The 2016 talk about the tape died down after no tape emerged and Trump vociferously denied it, then won the election. It helped that he enlisted a Hollywood Democrat and self-described Hillary Clinton supporter, “Apprentice” creator and reality-TV producer Mark Burnett, to deny any such tape exists.
Before the election, Trump’s critics sought to pressure Burnett to open up “Apprentice” archives so they could comb through 14 seasons of footage in the hunt for damaging Trump tapes. Burnett issued two statements saying that was never going to happen.
Burnett had sold the show to MGM, so he was no longer the owner even though he is president of MGM’s TV division. But he said neither he nor MGM could not open up archives or release any tapes – if they exist – because the archives are contractually confidential.
Earlier this month, during the Television Critics Association press tour, Burnett reiterated to USA TODAY that there are no tapes of Trump making racist or sexist comments during production on “The Apprentice.”
Trump tweeted Tuesday that Burnett called him and again denied there were any such tapes.
The comic actor and Twitter activist (and Trump foe) caused a stir in December 2016 when he claimed in an interview on a Seattle radio program that he had “Apprentice” outtakes that featured Trump saying “every dirty, every offensive, racist thing ever.”
Moreover, he said, “hundreds” of people have seen the footage because it had been compiled and sent around years earlier as a Christmas video by two editors and an associate producer.
At the time, Arnold said he didn’t release the footage because the makers of the video were “scared to death” of Trump and feared they’d never work again. “There’s a $5 million confidentiality agreement,” he added.
Now, nearly two years later, he is monetizing what he knows: In May, he announced his new cable TV series, “The Hunt for the Trump Tapes with Tom Arnold,” premiering in September on Viceland. He vowed to find the truth about Trump.
“I’m on a mission to do this until that guy resigns and the world is a little safer, and it is going to happen,” he told reporters during the TCA press tour in July.
McClain, who competed against Omarosa during the first season of “The Apprentice” is a newcomer to the Trump tape tale.
Omarosa, who claims in her book that her search for the tape is what led to her firing, told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd over the weekend that she only heard the tape for the first time after the book was finished.
Days later, the Huffington Post reported that McClain played it for Omarosa in the White House and that she informed at least three senior White House officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and former communications director Hope Hicks.
When contacted by the website, McClain confirmed that he met with Omarosa at the White House in December 2017 (around the time she was fired), but denied he played her a recording of Trump using a racial slur. “Is this a joke?” he laughed, thus undercutting another Omarosa claim.
Trump aides Katrina Pierson, Lynne Patton, Jason Miller
In her book, Omarosa writes that she took part in a public-relations strategy conference call with three senior Trump aides about how to handle such a recording should it become public. Also on the call: campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson; Trump Organization aide Lynne Patton; and campaign communications director Jason Miller.
This conversation never happened, Pierson said Monday on Fox News. “Sounds like she is writing a script for a movie,” Pierson sneered.
But there was a tape of that conversation too, which Omarosa revealed to “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday. Pierson can clearly be heard saying, “He said it; he is embarrassed by it.”
Later, Pierson issued a statement explaining that the campaign had heard “rumors” of a tape but that “it’s clear now that those rumors were always being circulated by Omarosa and her alone.”
In her book, Omarosa writes that veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz said he had heard Trump use a racial slur on an audiotape. He wasn’t having it.
“I’m in @Omarosa’s book on page 149. She claims to have heard from someone who heard from me that I heard Trump use the N-word. Not only is this flat-out false (I’ve never heard such a thing), but Omarosa didn’t even make an effort to call or email me to verify. Very shoddy work,” he tweeted.
The comedian/magician and former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant said in an interview with Vulture published Tuesday that he was “in the room” when Trump used slurs during his season. But he refused to be specific because he’s afraid of unfairly misquoting the president.
“(Trump) would say racially insensitive things that made me uncomfortable,” Jillette said. “I don’t think he ever said anything in that room like ‘African-Americans are inferior’ or anything about rape or grabbing women, but of those two hours every other day in a room with him, every 10 ten minutes was fingernails on a chalkboard.”
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