People who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. Then there’s President Trump.
Embroiled in a legal dispute over a nondisclosure agreement with an adult film actress whom he claims not to have had an affair with, Trump finds himself in a sticky situation since he never signed the document. Yet he somehow expects the world to believe his denials of infidelity and the claims that his lawyer took out a $130,000 second mortgage to pay the hush money out of his own pocket from the goodness of his heart.
While that dispute winds its way through the courts, The Washington Post has discovered an unprecedented move by the president that has both historians and legal experts flabbergasted by its audacity.
According to an article in the opinion section of the paper, Trump forced senior members of his administration to sign the same kind of nondisclosure agreements that he foisted upon his porn star mistress. The agreements prohibit the staffers from disclosing confidential information from their time in the White House and impose draconian penalties if anyone were to violate the terms of the agreement.
Even more surprisingly, the agreements call for the non-disclosure provisions to last beyond the terms of not only the signee’s employment in the administration but President Trump’s term in office as well.
Reportedly, Trump decided to require his staff to sign the agreements in a fit of fury early in his administration when the White House was even more plagued with leaks than it is now. The president relied on then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office to enforce the requirement. While some staff members balked at the idea, they signed it in the end, believing that the agreements would eventually be found unenforceable by the courts.
One person who signed a silence agreement described it to The Post as “very similar to the ones that some of us signed during the campaign and during the transition. I remember the president saying, ‘Has everybody signed a confidentiality agreement like they did during the campaign or we had at Trump Tower?’ ”
“There was lots of leaking, things that just weren’t true, and a lot of things that were true and should have remained confidential. The president’s point was that they [staff] would think twice about that if they were on the hook for some serious damages,” the source added.
Ruth Marcus, The Post’s deputy editorial page editor, found the president’s attempt at legal intimidation not only unprecedented but of dubious legality itself.
“This is extraordinary. Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations — maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance — the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.”
As employees of the federal government, rather than a non-governmental company, administration staffers maintain their First Amendment rights and should be fired if caught leaking classified information, Marcus argues.
Debra Katz, an attorney who has represented many government whistleblowers and negotiated confidentiality agreements, said:
“The idea of having some kind of economic penalty is an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech. Once again, this president believes employees owe him a personal duty of loyalty, when their duty of loyalty is to the institution.”
The Washington Post hasn’t accessed a copy of a final version of the agreements, but it has seen a draft of one and describes it as “a doozy.”
It calls for penalties of $10 million for each and every unpermitted disclosure of any “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.”
Even more outrageously, the agreement extends to “the publication of works of fiction that contain any mention of the operations of the White House, federal agencies, foreign governments, or other entities interacting with the United States Government that is based on confidential information.”
While the penalty in the final version of the contract may be less than what was called for in the draft, the intent of the agreement to stifle any dissemination of info about the inner workings of the Trump administration is clear.
With the White House refusing to comment on The Washington Post‘s latest revelation, Ruth Marcus’ final question about President Trump in her column rings out loudly and insistently: “Why is he so consistently frantic to ensure that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors?”
People who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. Those that know what’s been hidden, fear financial ruin if they talk. At least Trump doesn’t have access to Russian nerve gas… yet.