DON’T SAY A WORD
Will White House Staff Dish on President Trump?
Donald Trump is a privacy-obsessed extrovert who likes to silence free speech with non-disclosure agreements. In short, he’ll make Nixon look trusting.
He’s so private that the privacy terms he forces those in his orbit to agree to verge on unconstitutional, and his opaque plans to enforce privacy measures of undisclosed range as president of the United States have potentially grave implications for the Republic.
When he was merely a real estate mogul and tabloid fixture, Trump’s obsession with loyalty at the expense of honesty was just a silly quirk.
Millionaires always have silly quirks.
But with the White House now within Trump’s grasp, his quirks could feasibly become policy. And there’s no indication he would behave differently as commander in chief from how he did as a potential (and then eventual) ex-husband.
On Dec. 24, 1987, Trump and Ivana, his first wife, entered into a postnuptial agreement.
By that point they’d been married for 10 years and had, previously, come to three different agreements about what they were permitted to do in their marriage and what would happen in the event that they ever divorced (they eventually did, in 1992).
The new agreement stated, among other things, that within 90 days of their divorce, Trump would have to pay Ivana $10 million—on its face a steep sum, until you consider what Trump was asking of her in return.
According to an appeal filed by Trump to the Supreme Court of the State of New York on April 16, 1992, during his lengthy divorce battle with Ivana, Paragraph 10 of the 1987 postnuptial agreement stated that Ivana would never be permitted to publicly speak about a marriage and a man that defined her adult life. If she breached the contract, Trump wouldn’t have to pay her a penny.
“Without obtaining [the husband’s] written consent in advance,” the agreement stated, “[the wife] shall not directly or indirectly publish, or cause to be published, any diary, memoir, letter, story, photograph, interview, article, essay, account, or description or depiction of any kind whatsoever, whether fictionalized or not, concerning her marriage to [the husband] or any other aspect of [the husband’s] personal, business or financial affairs, or assist or provide information to others in connection with the publication or dissemination of any such material or excerpts thereof.”
Trump values telling it like it is, in other words, except if you’re telling it about him. The times Ivana has been quoted speaking about Trump in the 24 years since their split, her reviews have been artificially glowing.
“If there was a problem,” she told the New York Post about his reproductive machinery in April, “Donald would not have five kids.”
It wasn’t until Trump began running for president in his mind that he became obsessed with controlling the public conversations had by his employees.
Barbara Res worked for Trump for over 10 years, beginning in 1980, and she told The Daily Beast he never had her sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), a legal contract that stipulates confidentiality between two or more parties.
And good thing—in February, Res published a column for the New York Daily News recounting her time working for Trump, wherein she said, “Trump is not as bad as he sounds. But he’s a lot worse than he says.”
But campaign employees and volunteers have been required to sign such agreements, a practice that is not unheard of in politics, but not commonplace, either. Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, said he was the wrong person to talk to about this particular legal matter.
On April 8, The Daily Beast received an email intended for prospective Trump campaign volunteers.
“We are in the final stages of this historic campaign,” the email read. “There are only a few days left and we need your help to make one last push! To volunteer, all you have to do is stop by for training, sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and bring government-issued ID (such as a valid drivers license or passport).”
The NDA volunteers must sign was disclosed by The Daily Dot in March. It stipulates that during the time the volunteer is working for the campaign “and at all times thereafter” they will not “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.” Additionally, volunteers are told they are responsible for enforcing the NDA onto their own employees—people who did not enter into a binding legal agreement with the Trump campaign.
Unlike the volunteers, Sam Nunberg did receive a paycheck from Trump. He signed an NDA on Jan. 1, 2015, binding him legally to the Donald J. Trump Exploratory Committee.
Nunberg—a protege of Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime friend and mutual associate of his mentor, Roy Cohn—had been an aide to Trump in the years leading up to his presidential campaign.
In a copy of his contract, obtained by The Daily Beast, Trump made sure that the NDA would survive Nunberg’s stint as a consultant for the campaign (a stint that was short lived, as it turned out).
But the threat of legal action has not stopped Nunberg from speaking his mind about Trump since he was fired from the campaign in August. In December 2015, Nunberg told The Daily Beast, “I do not think that he will win.”
Also in 2015, Trump mailed Nunberg a cease and desist notice.
Negative stories infuriate Trump. He takes them very personally, and he is known to lash out at the reporters or on-the-record sources responsible for them. But within his campaign, Trump’s preoccupation with NDA’s is seen as a colossal misunderstanding of how the press operates.
It’s true of any campaign at any level of government that if a staffer wanted to leak unfavorable internal information to the media, it’s highly unlikely they would do so on the record. That’s just how this whole thing tends to work. People leak information and they keep their “fingerprints” off of it.
Trump’s threat of legal action for defectors, then, is meaningless if he can’t determine who the defectors are. He can’t sue an anonymous source.
But Trump doesn’t get bogged down in details like that.
In an interview with The Washington Post in April, Trump said he would require high-level government employees to sign NDAs were he to become president. There already exists a nondisclosure agreement of sorts for federal government employees who have security clearance. They are not allowed to reveal classified information and before writing a book about their experiences on the job, they’re supposed to submit their manuscript for review to the CIA. But this is a means of protecting information that, if public, could have negative consequences for the United States—not protecting information or opinion that could hurt the feelings of a thin-skinned fascist.
“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,” Trump said, “I don’t like that.”
Trump has never liked the First Amendment when it’s been applied to anyone other than himself, of course. In February, he said he wanted to “open up our libel laws” so he could more easily sue the press, whose freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution.
But to Trump, freedom of speech only applies if you’re wearing a Make America Great Again hat.