Trump staffers in the White House have been required to sign nondisclosure agreements, aiming to prevent them from talking about his presidency for years after it ends, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Trump apparently required the NDAs to be signed early in his presidency, after he became frustrated by leaks to the media, reported the Post’s Ruth Marcus, who obtained a draft of the agreement. Violators would have to pay penalties of $10 million for each revelation of “confidential information,” defined as “all nonpublic information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties in the service of the United States Government on White House staff,” including “communications . . . with members of the press” and “with employees of federal, state, and local governments.” They even extend to works of fiction.
Some White House staffers didn’t want to sign the agreement, “but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event,” reported Marcus.
Can they hold Trump staffers to the NDAs?
They were correct. On Monday, the ACLU said that Trump’s action violates the Constitution. “Public employees can’t be gagged by private agreements,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “These so-called NDAs are unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
And Norm Eisen, former special counsel for ethics and government reform in the Obama administration, said that lawyers who oversaw the signing of the agreements could be disciplined. “White House lawyers who knowingly participated” in pressuring staffers to sign NDAs “could be subject to bar discipline for violating ethics rules —and maybe even lose their licenses,” he tweeted.
The White House hasn’t commented.
In March 2016, Trump went on record as favoring NDAs for a president’s staff. “I don’t know, there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this,” he told the Post. But when people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that. I mean, I’ll be honest. And people would say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re taking away his right to free speech. Well, he’s going in.”