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What Omarosa and Martha Mitchell have in common

What Omarosa and Martha Mitchell have in common

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

I doubt there was even one Vegas oddsmaker who would have taken the bet that Omarosa Manigault Newman wouldn't write a book about the Trump campaign and administration the minute she left the White House. Of course that's what she would do. It's what they all do. They generally used to wait until the president was out of office but George Stephanopoulos broke that norm when he wrote his memoir shortly after leaving the Clinton White House and shared a lot of information that embarrassed his former boss. The most famous reality show villain on television, known only by her first name (like Cher or Madonna) Omarosa almost certainly took the job with the Trump campaign largely because it would afford her this opportunity to turn the screws on her show business mentor, Donald Trump. That's how reality shows work. It was scripted in the stars.

Omarosa's new book may be mostly fiction but like any good reality show narrative, it must contain some elements of truth in order to be believable. The tapes she is releasing in carefully managed episodic fashion on her publicity tour are backing up at least some of the claims in her book. And she is clearly scaring the hell out of everyone in the White House. If she's been secretly taping conversations since she joined the team there is no telling what she has.

As I watched Omarosa on the various news programs and talk shows this week I was reminded of another famous gadfly who made the White House very nervous in similar circumstances. Back in the early 70s, a garrulous southern belle  who was married to one of the most powerful men in Washington used to have a drink or two and then call up reporters and share information she'd overheard eavesdropping on her husband's meetings. I'm speaking of Martha Mitchell, the wife of the Attorney General in the first Nixon administration and the man who ran the Committee to Re-elect the President, also known as CREEP, John Mitchell.

She too was something of a TV star, a household name, known for speaking her mind and causing no end of heartburn for the administration, largely because they didn't know what she knew and who she was going to tell it to. As it happened she knew a lot because her husband was a corrupt schemer who was in charge of any number of illegal, nefarious schemes in his capacity as Nixon's campaign chairman. As the Watergate scandal unfolded, Martha Mitchell was considered a ticking time bomb and Nixon's supporters went to great lengths to portray her as a lunatic, not to be believed. (At one point a bodyguard physically restrained her from speaking to UPI reporter Helen Thomas by yanking the phone out of the wall. They later held her down, tranquilized her and kept her under lock and key for several days!)  This was all known in real time as the story was unfolding but it was relegated to the "woman's pages" and treated as a sideshow. 


What made me think of her in light of Omarosa's publicity tour wasn't that they are personally similar or that Omarosa is being treated so horrifically. Omarosa is a savvy celebrity playing by the same rules as Donald Trump. She is, after all, his creature. Mitchell was a much more sincere sort of trouble maker. But aside from the spectacle of a woman in the president's orbit running around making charges of criminality and corruption, there are a couple of things more substantially comparable between the two.

One of the charges that Omarosa has made in her book and TV appearances indicates that the Trump operation has something very specific in common with the Nixon re-election campaign that was run by Martha Mitchell's husband: hush money. 

We already knew that Trump was in the habit of paying people to be quiet using non-disclosure agreements. After all, that's what all the hubub regarding adult film actress Stormy Daniels and his former mistress Karen McDougal is all about. But according to Omarosa, the Trump White House is using the same  tactic through the president's re-election campaign which is strikingly similar to the famous CREEP "slush fund" of campaign donations that John Mitchell used to fund dirty tricks and pay various henchmen to keep quiet. She provided a copy of the non-disclosure agreement they wanted her to sign in return for her silence and $15,000 a month to NBC News.

According to the Washington Post, this is not an unusual arrangement in the Trump White House where there has been an unprecedented amount of turnover. The Post reports that the White House counsel also drafted a short non-disclosure agreement for all staffers that is almost assuredly unenforceable but the president insisted anyway. This practice may be legal, depending on where the money is coming from and how it's being accounted for. But as with so much else in Trumpworld it has "cover-up" written all over it. Hush money usually does. 

Martha Mitchell also said over and over from the beginning that Richard Nixon ordered the cover up. This was the big issue of Watergate, prompting the famous question "what did the president know and when did he know it?"   Once everyone heard the tapes it was clear that for all the mocking and the disrespect, Martha was right all along.   

On Tuesday Omarosa said something else that echoed Mitchell's insistent charges from all those years ago. She told Katy Tur of MSNBC that she had spoken to the special prosecutor and that Trump knew about the Clinton emails before they were released by Wikileaks.  And who knows? Maybe she's got the tapes to prove it...

Richard Nixon himself told David Frost in the famous interviews,  "if it hadn't been for Martha there'd have been no Watergate. The point of the matter is that if John had been watchin' that store, Watergate would never have happened."  If that's so, here's to Martha Mitchell the unsung hero of that scandal. And if the reality show villain Omarosa's ploy proves that Trump knew about the hacking in advance, whatever her motives, she'll be a hero too.