Did Trump use unforgivable slur?
DONALD Trump is confronting renewed allegations that a recording exists of him using the n-word during the production of The Apprentice.
The President has denied ever using the racial slur.
Nevertheless, rumours of such a recording have circulated since before the 2016 presidential election, when Mr Trump's opponents, hoping to uncover something damaging, pushed for unaired tapes from the reality show to be released.
Now those rumours have been given new life by fired White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who is currently stirring up as much drama as possible in an effort to publicise her tell-all book from her time as a senior adviser to the President.
Is there really a tape? Let's examine the evidence.
DOES THE TAPE EXIST?
Donald Trump himself has unambiguously denied the existence of any such recording, and says Mark Burnett, who produced The Apprentice, called him yesterday to reassure him.
"Mark Burnett called to say that there are NO TAPES of The Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by wacky and deranged Omarosa," Mr Trump tweeted. "I don't have that word in my vocabulary and never have. She made it up."
Mr Burnett himself has not spoken publicly to back up Mr Trump's assertion, and as a private citizen, is not obliged to say anything.
The White House, however, can't avoid the awkward questions - and when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the n-word allegation, she gave a strikingly noncommittal answer.
"Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people will never hear Donald Trump utter the 'n-word' on a recording in any context?" asked NBC reporter Kristen Welker at today's press briefing.
"I can't guarantee anything," Ms Sanders responded. "But I can tell you that the President addressed this question directly. I can tell you that I've never heard it.
"I can also tell you that if myself or the people that are in this building serving this country every single day, doing our very best to serve our country and make it better, if at any point we felt that the President was who some of his critics claim him to be, we certainly wouldn't be here."
The press secretary for an American president just REPEATEDLY declined to rule out the possibility that he used the n-word. Amazing.— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) 14 August 2018
It’s easy to lose perspective in our current climate. To be clear....the @PressSec can’t say definitively we’ll never hear the President of our United States utter the n-word on a recording. That’s where we are right now.— Craig Melvin (@craigmelvin) 14 August 2018
Thanks to a different recording released by Ms Manigault-Newman, we know there were some senior staffers in the Trump campaign who thought the rumours were credible in 2016.
The tape is of a phone conversation in October of that year between Ms Manigault-Newman, Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and Lynne Patton, who was an assistant to Mr Trump's son Eric at the time.
The three were discussing ways to respond to the n-word recording if it proved to be true.
"I am trying to find at least what context it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it," Ms Pierson said.
"I (told Mr Trump), 'Well sir, can you think of any time where this happened?' And he said no," Mr Patton interjected.
"And he goes, 'How do you think I should handle it?' And I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, 'Well, why don't you just go ahead and put it to bed?'"
Ms Pierson then replied: "No, he said it. He is embarrassed."
That seemingly incriminating sentence - "no, he said it," - is made more suspicious by the fact that Ms Pierson had denied this phone conversation took place at all before the recording was made public.
Now, it's important to note that Ms Manigault-Newman is not a reliable source.
She has been trashing Mr Trump in the media all week, and clearly holds a grudge over her abrupt sacking from her position as a senior adviser to the President last year.
Beyond her word that the tape exists - and comedian Tom Arnold's claim that he's heard it - there is no proof.
On the other hand, Ms Sanders' refusal to rule out the existence of the tape is a stunning concession, and Mr Trump has consistently proven honesty is not his strong suit, so we would be foolish to take his denial at face value.
"This is a challenge for all of us here, we honestly have a story where there are like 30 liars," CNN host Jake Tapper said today, summing it up pretty well.
"And they're all changing their stories - Omarosa, Katrina Pierson, the President, they're all changing their stories and we don't know what to believe."
The only thing that could give us certainty is the release of The Apprentice tapes, and that seems unlikely to happen.
Before the election, Mr Burnett insisted he no longer had the right to make any behind-the-scenes recordings public, having sold his production firm to MGM. It won't release them either.
"MGM has agreements with artists across a wide spectrum of creative properties, including The Apprentice," a lawyer for the production company said in 2016.
"These agreements typically contain provisions related to confidentiality and artist's rights. MGM has every intention of complying with its agreements with artists and honouring their rights, including with respect to The Apprentice."
So, even if the n-word tape exists, we might never hear it. And in the meantime, absent any reliable evidence to the contrary, we have to assume it doesn't.