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White House

Former White House Aides Must Come Clean

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, May 9, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I don’t know if the alleged Trump White House Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are enforceable in a court of law (I assume that the NDAs the Trump campaign forced staffers to sign are enforceable, to one extent or another). Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to suggest yesterday that the administration’s NDAs are typical and even routine in government, likening them to the rules that come with security clearances. That’s all nonsense.

But none of that interests me very much.

What does interest me, however, are these reported “non-disparagement” clauses. Here’s one version from a standard 2016 Trump campaign NDA:

No Disparagement. During the term of your service and at all times thereafter you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer, in each case by or in any of the Restricted Means and Contexts and to prevent your employees from doing so.

And here’s the clause from the one Omarosa has produced:

No Disparagement. During the term of your service, and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly, in any form or through any medium, the Campaign, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, any Trump or Pence Company, any Trump or Pence Family Member, or any Trump or Pence Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer, in each case by or in any of the Restricted Means and Contexts. To avoid any doubt, you agree that this shall survive the termination of this agreement pursuant to Paragraph 10.

The Weekly Standard’s Alice Lloyd reports that pretty much everyone at the White House signed some kind of NDA:

The rule extended not just to those public-facing West Wing regulars, like Apprentice star Manigault Newman or former press secretary Sean Spicer — but also to lower-level recruits less likely to shop a White House memoir.

“We had to sign them when we went into the building,” said one former White House and former Trump campaign staffer, who described the practice as just a part of this president’s modus operandi going back many years. “Everyone I’ve seen was two or three pages and it’s straight-up No talking bad about Trump or his family,” he added.

The NDAs were administered by the ethics lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, Stefan Passantino — who appears to have foreseen from Day 1 the coming wave of ex-staffers’ seeking to cash in with tell-alls of their own. “I remember Stefan told us when we signed it that if you write a book it has to be approved by the White House and Trump before you publish it — if you want to actually make money off of it,” this staffer recalled to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The NDA stated that staffers would have to forfeit to the government any earnings from an unapproved book.

Again, put legalities aside. Heck, put ethics or self-respect aside. If you worked for the Trump administration and signed one of these things, why should anyone believe anything you say about it? More specifically, why should TV shows or op-ed pages invite you — or pay you — to share your views without disclosing the fact you’ve vowed, in writing, that you will never, ever, for all eternity criticize this administration?

Look, I get that many flacks and hacks don’t need the threat of a million-dollar lawsuit to carry water for their former boss or party. But there’s a difference between being a loyal party guy or gal, and actually entering into a binding legal agreement that says you cannot tell the truth if the truth is embarrassing to Donald Trump and the extended Trump Universe.

At minimum, I think any Trump White House alum who has a contract with a news network or academic institution, should disclose whether they signed a NDA with a non-disparagement clause in it (or any of its associated PACs). They should produce the actual document for public review. They should also openly declare whether they consider it binding. Their answer, yes or no, should be noted at the end of any op-ed they write and mentioned by any interviewer asking them to share their opinion or analysis.

Lots of people in politics and journalism don’t tell the truth (you could look it up). But these people put it in writing, and there should be consequences for that. And if consequences are just another one of the nice things we can’t have anymore, we should at least get some transparency.

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