White House interns are being made to sign non-disclosure agreements and threatening to sue them if they leak anything to the press, The Daily Beast reports.
Along with requiring senior officials to sign NDAs, incoming intern classes are being given NDAs to sign at their orientation. During the orientation, a representative of the White House counsel’s office warns the interns that a breach of the agreement “could result in legal, and thus financial, consequences for them,” The Daily Beast reported.
Experts say the NDAs are likely unenforceable and mirror similar Trump legal threats that never come to be.
“All White House employees—from senior officials to interns—understand the necessity of discretion based on the fact that they hold positions of public trust, with an emphasis on public,” former National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told The Daily Beast. “But this White House’s approach to non-disclosure agreements, even for interns, seems to suggest that guarding against criticism of the president and his family—what most of us would consider to be protected speech—is just as important as safeguarding the sensitive information the American public entrusts to the government.”
The Washington Post reported last year that Trump ordered senior officials to sign NDAs that threatened a $10 million fee for breaching the agreement.
“I don’t know, there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this,” Trump told The Washington Post during the 2016 campaign. “But 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, I don’t like that.”
NDAs are likely unenforceable:
“Gagging interns is playing with legal fire. There is no White House exemption in the longstanding appropriations rider that employees who try to obstruct communications with Congress are subject to salary cutoff,” Tom Devine, the legal director at the Government Accountability Project, told The Daily Beast. “Nor is the White House exempt from criminal liability since 1980 for obstructing witnesses in any federal investigation.”
The NDAs certainly haven’t stopped former officials like Cliff Sims from publishing embarrassing tell-all books, though Trump is reportedly suing Sims, who is himself suing Trump for trying to “silence” former staffers by violating their First Amendment rights.
Earlier this week, former Trump campaign official Jessica Denson filed a class action lawsuit to invalidate all of the NDAs from the campaign as well. The suit alleges that the agreements were “unlawful” and did not allow staffers to make claims for workplace discrimination, among other things.