The Biden Justice Department is showing no sign of letting up in a two-year-old legal fight against a former White House aide who became an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.
While the Justice Department has sought to pause or drop a number of high-profile court battles due to the change in administration, government lawyers are pressing on aggressively with a lawsuit claiming that Omarosa Manigault Newman failed to file a required financial disclosure following her attention-grabbing firing in December 2017.
Manigault Newman has described the suit as a vendetta aimed at her for turning on Trump, calling him a racist and making revealing disclosures about the former president and his top aides. She also wrote a tell-all book, “Unhinged,” which chronicles her dealings with Trump as a contestant on “The Apprentice” and later as his most prominent African American White House aide.
In a new brief filed in federal court in Washington just before midnight Thursday, the Justice Department forcefully defended its position in the case, even tangling with Manigault Newman over the contentious circumstances of her dismissal by then-White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“She…made no attempt to file any Termination Report before September 2019, more than a year and a half after it was due and after this litigation was commenced,” DOJ lawyers wrote. “Then, following that submission—in which only half the required fields were even filled out—Defendant made no effort for over a year to correct her submission, despite being promptly advised of its deficiencies…She remains out of compliance with [the Ethics in Government Act] to this day.”
The suit asks U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to impose a civil penalty of $61,585 on Manigault Newman for willfully refusing to file the financial disclosure. Such suits are rare. Disputes over financial disclosures are typically resolved by an employee updating the forms and, in some instances, incurring a small penalty.
Manigault Newman’s main defense in the case has been that — after her acrimonious departure from the White House — Trump aides refused to return her personal effects, including financial records she needed to complete the required exit report. She also asserts that she is a whistleblower on government wrongdoing and that the lawsuit amounts to illegal retaliation for that.
After her dismissal, Manigault Newman released audio recordings she secretly made of a tense conversation with Kelly held in the highly-secure White House Situation Room — as well as a recording of another conversation where Trump implausibly asserted he was unaware Kelly planned to fire her.
In the audio, Kelly encourages Manigault Newman to go quietly so she “can go on without any kind of difficulty relative to her reputation.” It later emerged that Kelly said Manigault Newman had abused the White House car service. She contends that was a pretext for firing her.
While the new Justice Department brief argues that statement by Kelly was not a threat and maintains that she was fired for “misuse of government resources,” government lawyers also contend those disputes are irrelevant to the ongoing suit.
“Notwithstanding Defendant’s unfounded references to ‘threats’ at the time of her termination, the merits of Defendant’s termination from the White House are not at issue in this case,” the attorneys wrote.
The brief was submitted under the name of the acting head of Justice’s Civil Division, Brian Boynton, who assumed that role just after President Joe Biden’s inauguration last month. Biden has yet to name a nominee to take that post permanently.
Just last week, the Justice Department dropped a lawsuit against another Trump White House adviser, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who worked as a volunteer aide to former first lady Melania Trump. That suit alleged that her book about her time at the White House, "Melania and Me," violated a nondisclosure agreement Winston Wolkoff signed.
Department lawyers offered no official explanation to the court for the abrupt shift in that case. A Justice Department official offered only a vague statement, saying: "The Department evaluated the case and concluded that dismissal without prejudice was in the best interests of the United States based on the facts and the law."
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