President Donald Trump’s penchant for nondisclosure agreements seems to have carried over to the White House. According to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, Trump required senior White House staffers to sign the nondisclosure agreements that extend well past the end of his presidency. Trump apparently required his staff to sign the agreement in which they vowed not to share confidential information or risk monetary damages. Some apparently balked at the request at first but gave in due to pressure from then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the conclusion that any agreement of this kind would never be enforceable anyway.
According to an unnamed person who signed the document, the nondisclosure agreements “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?’”
Marcus, who saw a draft of the agreement but not the final version, called the move “extraordinary.” She explains:
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.
Unlike employees of private enterprises such as the Trump Organization or Trump campaign, White House aides have First Amendment rights when it comes to their employer, the federal government. If you have a leaker on your staff, the cure is firing, not suing.
Marcus is not the only one who is shocked and quotes attorney Debra Katz saying that the whole thing is “crazy” because it amount to “an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech.” Dartmouth political science professor Brendan Nyhan agrees and he took to Twitter to say that the report is “chilling and scary” because it sounds like the president “is trying to legally silence public employees from *ever* speaking or writing about what they see while doing the people’s business.” Even if they are completely unenforceable, the nondisclosure agreements “could have a chilling effect” and “are inconsistent with the principles we expect the leader of a free society to uphold,” he added.