Sunday, March 18, 2018
He made everyone sign NDAs
He wants to keep everyone from telling what they know. It's not working since they're leaking like a sieve. But then the real purpose is to keep any of them from making money by writing books, right? Trumpie wants to make sure he's the only one allowed to get that big payday:
Back in April 2016, when the notion of Donald Trump in the White House still seemed fanciful, The Post’s Robert Costa and Bob Woodward sat down with Trump, and Costa, at one point, raised the subject of the nondisclosure agreements for employees of which the candidate was so fond.
Costa: “One thing I always wondered, are you going to make employees of the federal government sign nondisclosure agreements?”
Trump: “I think they should. . . . And I don’t know, there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this. 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. I mean, I’ll be honest. And people would say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re taking away his right to free speech. Well, he’s going in.”
Reader, it happened. In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.
[T]his confidentiality pledge would extend not only after an aide’s White House service but also beyond the Trump presidency. “It’s not meant to be constrained by the four years or eight years he’s president — or the four months or eight months somebody works there. It is meant to survive that.”
This is extraordinary. Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations — maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance — the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.
“This is crazy,” said attorney Debra Katz, who has represented numerous government whistleblowers and negotiated nondisclosure agreements. “The idea of having some kind of economic penalty is an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech. Once again, this president believes employees owe him a personal duty of loyalty, when their duty of loyalty is to the institution.”
I haven’t been able to lay hands on the final agreement, but I do have a copy of a draft, and it is a doozy. It would expose violators to penalties of $10 million, payable to the federal government, for each and any unauthorized revelation of “confidential” information, defined as “all nonpublic information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties in the service of the United States Government on White House staff,” including “communications . . . with members of the press” and “with employees of federal, state, and local governments.” The $10 million figure, I suspect, was watered down in the final version, because the people to whom I have spoken do not remember that jaw-dropping sum.
I don't know if Rex Tillerson signed one of these but he's rich enough that he could hand Trump the money and tell him to go fuck himself if he wanted to.
Michelle Goldberg made a good case this week-end that he should do just that:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.
The success of this informal alliance is hard to gauge. Last August, after the president said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., senior officials rationalized their continued role in the administration to Mike Allen of Axios. “If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall,” Allen wrote. Since then, we’ve had a government shutdown over immigration, albeit a brief one. A trade war appears imminent. Arrests of undocumented immigrants — particularly those without criminal records — have continued to surge.
Over the past 14 months we’ve also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America’s standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms. Yet things could always be worse; the economy is doing well and Trump has not yet started any real wars.
Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore... Whatever their accomplishments, if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly.
This month, Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, published a scathing open letter to Powell, the former security adviser. During her time in the administration, he wrote, she assured appalled onlookers that the adults were playing a stabilizing role: “You reached out to tell those of us on the outside you were saving us from a lot. You don’t understand, friends of yours conveyed to all of us, how bad it is.” Lovett wrote that he was skeptical of this argument but unable to dismiss it. The real test, he thought, would come when she and Cohn and others like them were no longer in the White House: “If you couldn’t speak out because you had to stay, when you left, you had to speak out.”
Of course, unlike Omarosa Manigault Newman, who confessed horror at her former boss’s presidency on “Celebrity Big Brother,” they haven’t. Their defenders among anti-Trump Republicans say it’s because some of them still have a role to play in staving off potential disaster. One Republican in regular contact with people in the White House told me that Powell and Cohn “need to protect their capacity to reach in and help manage in the event of any national crisis.”
I don’t find this entirely convincing. If these people see the administration as unequipped to handle an emergency, they owe the country a firsthand account of our vulnerability. But there is, at least, a certain logic to the argument made in their defense. That logic, however, only holds for those who remain on decent terms with Trump. Which means that if there’s one person who has no excuse for not speaking out, it’s Tillerson, once one of the most powerful private citizens in America, now humbled and defiled by his time in Trump’s orbit.
There’s little doubt that Tillerson holds Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. After Charlottesville, Tillerson refused to say that the president’s words represented American values. (“The president speaks for himself,” he told Fox News.) In office, he struggled to save the Iran nuclear deal and opposed Trump’s — and Jared Kushner’s — support for a blockade of Qatar by other Arab states. After his ignominious firing, he gave a live address in which he didn’t even mention the president’s name.
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”
In this case, patriotism and self-interest point in the same direction. Before entering this administration, Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump; as chief executive of Exxon Mobil, he presided over what The Times described as a “state within a state.” Now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of abject failure as the country’s lead diplomat, culminating in a humiliation fit for reality TV.
The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down. If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further. Republican members of Congress like Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be induced to rediscover their spines and perform proper oversight.
It's a thin thread on which to hang the future of the country but it may be all we've got.
digby 3/18/2018 04:00:00 PM