President Donald Trump appeared to make a startling admission during Monday’s tweetstorm against former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman: that his administration has made staffers sign nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs.
Trump’s tweet appeared to validate a rumor his administration for months had refused to confirm about demanding that staff sign such agreements, noted The New York Times.
Several current and former Trump aides, including Manigault Newman, told The Washington Post this week that they were asked to sign NDAs when they took jobs at the White House and the Trump campaign.
The Trump campaign is a private entity and could legitimately ask employees to sign such agreements. But legal and ethics experts questioned the validity — and constitutionality — of NDAs signed by White House staff.
“Donald Trump cannot muzzle federal employees,” Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told USA Today on Monday.
Past administrations have been known to require White House officials to sign confidentiality documents regarding classified information, but it is very unusual for aides to be asked to sign agreements that cover anything beyond that.
Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer, told the Post that “it would be unconstitutional to prevent a federal employee from discussing unclassified information post-employment.”
Officials in former President Barack Obama’s administration told the paper that NDAs were unheard of.
But current and former Trump aides say the practice has been commonplace under the billionaire real estate magnate who frequently required NDAs in his business.
A former aide told the Post that “everyone signed one” during the Trump campaign. Several White House officials said they were urged in early 2017 to sign NDAs ― some of which contained “breathtakingly broad prohibitions,” including restrictions on all public criticism of Trump, his company and members of his family. Some aides said White House Counsel Donald McGahn assured them at the time that the agreements were only to assuage Trump and were “unenforceable.”
Manigault Newman told PBS NewsHour on Monday that she did sign NDAs when she starred alongside Trump in “The Apprentice” in 2003, and in 2016, when she worked for Trump’s presidential campaign. But she insisted she “never signed that draconian NDA that they presented to me when I walked into the White House.”
She told the Post that the NDA she declined to sign would have restricted her from sharing information:
“...including but not limited to the assets, investments, revenue, expenses, taxes, financial statements, actual or prospective business ventures, contracts, alliances, affiliations, relationships, affiliated entities, bids, letters of intent, term sheets, decisions, strategies, techniques, methods, projections, forecasts, customers, clients, contacts, customer lists, contact lists, schedules, appointments, meetings, conversations, notes and other communications” of “Trump, Pence, any Trump or Pence Family member, any Trump or Pence company, or any Trump or Pence Family Member Company.”
Manigault Newman ― who also claims to have rejected a $15,000-a-month hush contract with Trump’s campaign after her firing last year ― has been making the media rounds to promote her new tell-all book Unhinged.
She’s accused Trump of being a conman and a racist. Trump, in turn, has described his former aide as a “lowlife” and “loser” who is “vicious, but not smart.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday that Trump aides “absolutely” have to sign NDAs like the one Manigault Newman claims she rejected.
“It is typical, and you know it, to sign an NDA in any place of work,” Conway told ABC News.
“We’ve all signed them in the West Wing,” she added.