Trump’s NDA Culture

 

shutterstock_275735588The Trump campaign is requiring nearly all employees, and even many volunteers, to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements, or NDAs. Although relatively common in business, NDAs in politics are — or were, until Donald came along — all but unheard of. And the Trump organization takes them seriously. The Trump NDAs require staffers to promise never to disparage Trump himself, members of his family, or any of his companies — in perpetuity. (Here in Silicon Valley, even aggressive NDAs typically expire after five years. An NDA in perpetuity? I myself have never even heard of such a thing.) And Trump is already suing one former staffer for $10 million for violating the NDA.

The argument making the rounds: That his NDA culture is going to make it difficult for Trump to hire really good people. Who wants the threat of a lawsuit from one of the most litigious men in American hanging over his head for the rest of his life? But in an email I just received, a politically savvy friend offers this:

Allow me to make a counter argument: maybe Washington can benefit from Trump’s NDA culture.

Apply such confidentiality to the executive branch and the world’s spared the obligatory “If Only They’d Listen to Me” memoirs by disgruntled former cabinet secretaries and “What Really Goes On At the White House” confidentials by former aides trying to cash in on their public service in speaking gigs and cable TV dough.

You hit on something recently in a podcast that I thought was really profound: just how lucrative politics has become at the staff level. It’s true of strategists like Paul Manafort, communications flacks like Joe Lockhart, who’s renting the Obama’s his house in Kalorama. Perhaps by putting a few people on mute, we eliminate a little self-promotion and axe-grinding, thus lowering the current toxicity a bit.

History would still be recorded — Bob Woodward can always pit anonymous aide vs. anonymous aide. Just so only historians profit from it.

Even at the level of everyday political operations, Trump is adding wrinkles and complications.

We shall see.

There are 63 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Brandon Shafer Coolidge
    Brandon Shafer
    @BrandonShafer

    This seems like an overreach.  NDAs are usually used for trade secrets.  I’m no lawyer, I’m doubtful that an NDA saying you will never disparage Donald Trump would hold up in court.

    • #1
  2. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Peter,

    You have missed the point entirely.

    The Obama administration has already created a bizarre NDA culture in government.

    Consider the recent emailgate and Benghazi cases.

    Going back to Day One of this administration, such practices have been alarming.

    • #2
  3. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    What candidate wants to have a disgruntled aide go out and talk about what it’s like inside the campaign? Whether true or false? Probably a generous admixture of both, whichever sells the most books and garners the most face time.

    Want to avoid the suit? Keep your mouth shut. Want history to know the story, write it out in a diary.

    • #3
  4. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Given how many people get rich selling tell all stories about republican presidents to liberals fulfilling all of their prejudices, I think its probably a wise idea.

    • #4
  5. Mister D Member
    Mister D
    @MisterD

    I agree an NDA makes sense for Trump, but the Peter’s point should not be ignored – it may be discouraging people, good people, even the best people, from working for him. Trump still doesn’t seem to understand how much a candidate relies on others to get elected, and that means he needs them as much, if not more, than they need him.

    • #5
  6. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Where does he get these ideas?

    NDA

    • #6
  7. Richard Fulmer Inactive
    Richard Fulmer
    @RichardFulmer

    So much for government transparency.

    • #7
  8. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    I’m pretty sure that Democrat Party operatives will be offering enormous amounts of money to Trump campaign employees for any potential dirt.  Such an NDA seems like a reasonable precautionary deterrent to me.

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I worked on a great book in 1995 by Edward Grefe and Martin Linsky called The New Corporate Activism. Grefe and Linsky would laugh out loud at Donald Trump’s methods of preventing disparagement and bad press.

    They taught companies to conduct public relations seven days a week so that when a crisis does occur, the company will have built up some good will and a customer network over which to communicate.

    Disney will survive its terrible error of not warning its guests more strongly about the alligators swimming near the resorts because Disney treats its customers with respect and keeps in touch with them consistently and positively.

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s method of silencing their opponents and detractors is a joke. It will just make any bad situation much, much worse.

    • #9
  10. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Eight years seems plenty long enough to me.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Too bad he hadn’t hired Hillary at one point. Then he could hit her with a non-compete clause…

    • #11
  12. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Mr Robinson, with the carefully distorting “leaks” emanating from the the White House–of any administration–why do you think NDAs for political staffers are a bad idea?  Also, do you think the “leaks” that occur give an objective, balanced view of what goes on?

    Separately,

    Peter Robinson: The Trump NDAs require staffers to promise….

    Perhaps you’ll publish in this thread, or in a separate post, the NDA you read that reveals these requirements, and the name of the person from whom you got that NDA.  Or was that “leak” pursuant to a requirement not to reveal…?

    Eric Hines

    • #12
  13. Domer61 Inactive
    Domer61
    @Domer61

    Maybe he was thinking of the McCain staffers who trashed Sarah Palin after the ’08 election.

    • #13
  14. Could Be Anyone Member
    Could Be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    MarciN:I worked on a great book in 1995 by Edward Grefe and Martin Linsky called The New Corporate Activism. Grefe and Linsky would laugh out loud at Donald Trump’s methods of preventing disparagement and bad press.

    They taught companies to conduct public relations seven days a week so that when a crisis does occur, the company will have built up some good will and a customer network over which to communicate.

    Disney will survive its terrible error of not warning its guests more strongly about the alligators swimming near the resorts because Disney treats its customers with respect and keeps in touch with them consistently and positively.

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s method of silencing their opponents and detractors is a joke. It will just make any bad situation much, much worse.

    Leftists do what leftists do though.

    • #14
  15. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Sorry Peter – it is items like this that convince me that Trump is fundamentally unserious in his pursuit of the presidency.

    If he isn’t serious about even attempting to win, please tell me again why he should be the nominee.

    #freethedelegates

    • #15
  16. MaC Inactive
    MaC
    @MaC

    After that twit Scot McClellan wrote his book about his years as a WH Press Secretary, I admire Trump even more for his NDAs. The Don understands both the damage this type of nonsense can do to his administration and to national security as well.

    He is changing all the rules, rocking the world of every political dinosaur, and I love it.

    • #16
  17. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Mister D:I agree an NDA makes sense for Trump, but the Peter’s point should not be ignored – it may be discouraging people, good people, even the best people, from working for him. Trump still doesn’t seem to understand how much a candidate relies on others to get elected….

    That’s my concern exactly. And again, what I find so striking is that the NDA remains in effect in perpetuity.

    Well, we shall see….

    • #17
  18. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    EJHill:Too bad he hadn’t hired Hillary at one point. Then he could hit her with a non-compete clause…

    Well, he did say he paid her to attend his wedding.

    Does that count?

    • #18
  19. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Instugator:Sorry Peter – it is items like this that convince me that Trump is fundamentally unserious in his pursuit of the presidency.

    If he isn’t serious about even attempting to win, please tell me again why he should be the nominee.

    #freethedelegates

    Something tells me that if Trump did not have NDAs, you would use that as evidence of his unseriousness.

    Was this guy serious?

    • #19
  20. Baby Goyl Member
    Baby Goyl
    @

    Trump deserves Kardashian style coverage until he proves otherwise.

    • #20
  21. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Trump is under assault more so than any other presidential candidate in history.  He’s right to be extremely paranoid about moles and saboteurs.

    The democrats who normally have a low level of morality in the presidential political wars are running a candidate  who may be the most ruthless candidate  in modern times as well.   She’s the Tonya Harding of presidential candidates and Trump knows the bat to the knees can come at anytime.

    • #21
  22. Lensman Inactive
    Lensman
    @Lensman

    Peter Robinson:

    Mister D:I agree an NDA makes sense for Trump, but the Peter’s point should not be ignored – it may be discouraging people, good people, even the best people, from working for him. Trump still doesn’t seem to understand how much a candidate relies on others to get elected….

    That’s my concern exactly. And again, what I find so striking is that the NDA remains in effect in perpetuity.

    Well, we shall see….

    There are two angles that jump out at me:

    1. Is it wise to do this to people who are volunteering to help you or who are working on the Trump campaign at a low level? There is a big difference between them and a person in a policy position.
    2. Is it legally enforceable to make the duration “in perpetuity” ?

    On the occasions when I have dealt with similar issues in the business world the duration of the restriction on the employee had to be reasonable with the exception of trade secrets. Because of public policy concerns I don’t think the courts are going to be willing to apply the trade secrets law(s) to a mere political campaign. Even classified information can eventually be declassified (e.g. the Ultra program during WWII to decrypt German communications that used the Enigma machine).

    As with so many things involving Trump, there is the germ of a good idea (e.g. tell-all books by former appointees should not be published until after the administration is out of office). However he manages to beat it to death with excessive application.

    • #22
  23. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    With staffers muzzled it leaves more column inches for less informed but more spirited razzing of Blondy. I, for one, look forward to razzing his huuuugeness on a frequent basis.

    Having said that, I have read a couple of those campaign manager tell-alls that spare no derisive adjectives for the candidates naive enough to trust them. The complete lack of loyalty, or even basic decency, is a dead give away that their candidate’s fatal mistake was hiring the clown in the first place. All of the tell-all industry gets taken with a grain of salt by most people, the animus of avarice is no surprise to generations raised on the commercials of commercial television. Verity? Not very.

    The hypocrisy is homeric, having spent the primary season hemorrhaging cheap shots and slanders, Blondy now says “¡No mas!”

    In a few months, Blondy will be relegated to the warehouse of failed presidential nominees with McCain, Romney, et.al. and, to his epic displeasure, the nation will move on. Hopefully in a more serious and prudent direction. Maybe bungie jumping.

    • #23
  24. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    ctlaw:

    Instugator:Sorry Peter – it is items like this that convince me that Trump is fundamentally unserious in his pursuit of the presidency.

    If he isn’t serious about even attempting to win, please tell me again why he should be the nominee.

    #freethedelegates

    Something tells me that if Trump did not have NDAs, you would use that as evidence of his unseriousness.

    Was this guy serious?

    Or Ron Paul?

    Or Gov. Abbott?

    • #24
  25. ModEcon Inactive
    ModEcon
    @ModEcon

    I would point out a similarity to confidentiality and work product in other areas. Isn’t it true that generally speaking an employer has a right to have confidential work done for them with legal repercussions for taking the product ( for example an analysis of polling data) and giving it away? If so, isn’t an NDA just a formality to make to contract more clear?

    I would like to compare this to a lawyer. They produce documents and ideas and are obligated to not speak about their interactions without approval. So again, isn’t the NDA just a formality that fully defines the relation of an employer (Trump for President) and the employee (a campaign staffer or volunteer, and I do include volunteer because they are paid in opportunity to influence or resources to do what they want, campaign).

    As to the quality argument, I would think that loyalty is more valuable than “skill” in this modern political culture of attack adds. Especially when talking about close aids. Without the NDA, isn’t like asking someone into your home and then the guest speaking at the curb about how messy your house is, it’s just not polite or civilized.

    On the other hand, I agree about the perpetuity and disparagement clauses being suspect. There is little relevance to forever in this case and should a candidate be able to prevent a person from voicing an opinion about them, highly suspect.

    • #25
  26. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    EJHill: Where does he get these ideas?

    Trump isn’t breaking any ground here. This Administration is getting NDAs from FBI agents.

    • #26
  27. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    ctlaw: Something tells me that if Trump did not have NDAs, you would use that as evidence of his unseriousness.

    In the absence of his NDAs  I submit his ad buys in swing states and his organization as a whole as prima facie evidence of his unseriousness.

    His reliance on the MSM (Democrat operatives with bylines to a core) to allow him to rebut D talking points in the general is permitting the enemy to control the battleground AND the clock and is doomed to failure.

    #freethedelegates

    • #27
  28. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Simply put – NDAs do not help him in the current fight (ostensibly for the White House) they help him maintain his brand after he loses.

    Unserious.

    • #28
  29. Mister D Member
    Mister D
    @MisterD

    cdor:Eight years seems plenty long enough to me.

    Five seems reasonable. Long enough to ride out the next presidential election on the off chance Trump gets elected.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Instugator:Simply put – NDAs do not help him in the current fight (ostensibly for the White House) they help him maintain his brand after he loses.

    Unserious.

    Nothing — nothing — saves Trump’s brand if he loses.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.