It’s well-known that nearly everyone in Donald Trump’s orbit has to sign a nondisclosure agreement, from business associates, to campaign employees, to women he may or may not have had affairs with. Therefore it is simultaneously galling and non-at-all surprising that Trump may have pressured senior White House staffers into signing NDAs, though they are members of the federal government, not his personal employees.
Trump actually told the Washington Post in April 2016 that he intended to use NDAs in the White House, saying, “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.”
He allowed that “there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this,” and experts say he was on to something:
But on Sunday the Post’s Ruth Marcus reported that she did some digging and learned that didn’t stop President Trump from making sure everyone around him signed NDAs in an effort to stop the steady flow of leaks from his young administration:
In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first 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.
The nondisclosure agreements, said a person who signed the document, “were meant to be 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?’ ”
Trump’s hope, according to the source, was that staffers would “think twice” about leaking “if they were on the hook for some serious damages.” It appears the consequences were indeed quite serious. Marcus obtained a draft of the NDA that includes a $10 million punishment:
It would expose violators to penalties of $10 million, payable to the federal government, for each and any unauthorized 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.” The $10 million figure, I suspect, was watered down in the final version, because the people to whom I have spoken do not remember that jaw-dropping sum.
The source did recall that as stated in the draft, the final agreement they signed would remain in place not just for their tenure in the Trump administration, or the four or eight years Trump is in office, but “at all times thereafter” — i.e., until the end of time.
It seems the NDAs did not have the desired effect, as there was no noticeable drop off in leaks in February or March 2017. But of course, we have no way of knowing if the NDA had a chilling effect, convincing some who would have sounded the alarm about activities inside the Trump administration to keep quiet. The report raises plenty of other concerns, such as why the White House counsel’s office was pressuring federal employees to sign a ridiculous loyalty agreement. It also underscores that the president of the United States doesn’t know or care how the government works.
One thing you probably don’t need to worry about is your favorite Trump-administration personality finding that they owe the federal government tens of millions of dollars. Trump is struggling to silence a porn star who signed an NDA before he was elected, so the Mooch will probably be fine.