WASHINGTON ― After decades of being able to shut people up with threats of lawsuits, President Donald Trump is likely in for a rude awakening as he goes after a former White House aide who has written an unflattering book.
Trump’s re-election campaign is trying to force Omarosa Manigault Newman to stop disparaging Trump, based on a nondisclosure agreement she signed when she was working for his campaign but which covered future activity.
“That’s going to fail,” predicted Bradley Moss, a Washington, D.C., lawyer specializing in federal employee rights. “[Trump is] used to a world where he can threaten financial ruin on people with these NDAs.”
While Trump could prevail regarding Manigault Newman’s time with the campaign, he will be unable to stop her from discussing her time in the White House, Moss said. During that time, she was technically working for the United States government, not a private entity under Trump’s control. In those circumstances an NDA would be unenforceable “as a matter of law,” according to Moss.
Trump campaign officials did not respond to HuffPost’s queries on the matter, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not comment on the campaign’s attempt to enforce its NDA through arbitration in New York City. Trump White House officials have acknowledged that many staff members have signed White House NDAs as a condition of employment.
Sanders did claim ― falsely ― that previous administrations also used NDAs in the White House itself. “Every administration prior to the Trump administration had NDAs, particularly specific for anyone that had a security clearance,” she said during Tuesday’s briefing.
But experts like Moss and employees of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations knew of no other administration in modern times that has used similar agreements. Trump’s NDAs attempt to keep staffers silent about Trump and their time in the White House even after they leave those positions.
All staff for all administrations, including Trump’s, are bound by the laws and rules that proscribe the release of material under the rubric of national security. And classified material cannot be released until it is declassified. But the courts have refused to restrict federal employees’ First Amendment rights about their time in government service, Moss said ― meaning Manigault Newman will be able to say whatever she wants about her time as a top White House adviser.
That outcome is unlikely to surprise current and past officials in the Trump White House, some of whom acknowledge privately that the NDAs are clearly unenforceable and were only drafted by White House lawyers against their own advice because Trump insisted on them.
Manigault Newman’s new book, Unhinged, argues that Trump is unfit for the presidency because of his bigotry and lack of mental aptitude. She has released segments of conversations with Trump and chief of staff John Kelly that she secretly recorded, leading White House officials to worry that there are more recordings still to come.
Her official title was communications director for the White House’s Office of Public Liaison, but it was never clear what she actually did in that job in the 11 months she held it before Kelly fired her. Prior to the campaign, Manigault Newman had been a contestant on Trump’s reality-TV game show, “The Apprentice.”
Trump in recent days has taken to insulting Manigault Newman’s appearance and sanity both verbally and via Twitter. He called her a “lowlife” in a photo opportunity during his New Jersey vacation over the weekend, and “a crazed, crying lowlife” and a “dog” on Twitter Tuesday morning.
The president also claimed this week that Manigault Newman had poor relationships with her co-workers, and that the only reason he let her continue at the White House was that she publicly praised him.
“Nasty to people & would constantly miss meetings & work. When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me - until she got fired!” he wrote on Monday.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.