Trump’s nondisclosure agreements are cause for concern.
With the recent firing of his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump returns to the public’s attention the matter of his notorious employee nondisclosure agreements. These agreements, in turn, bring to our attention the profoundly anti-democratic ideas Trump fosters about what the public has a right to know and what private citizens have a right to say.
First, we should note that Trump’s likely opponent in this fall’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton, also requires campaign staffers to sign such agreements. Trump is not the only controlling megalomaniac on the stump. But more is known about Trump’s agreements, and the statements he has made in connection with those agreements bring to light not only the character of the presumptive Republican candidate for president but also the character of the political fix we’re in.
As a businessman as well as a candidate for public office, Donald Trump requires virtually every employee to sign legally binding nondisclosure agreements prohibiting them from releasing any confidential or unflattering information about the man, his family or his companies. One such agreement, obtained by the Associated Press, indicates that Trump enjoys broad discretion over just what constitutes information “of a private, proprietary or confidential nature or that Mr. Trump insists remain private or confidential.” The document also requires employees to return or destroy copies of any information deemed confidential upon Trump’s request. The agreement is binding for the duration of the individual’s employment “and at all times thereafter.” The document was released by the Trump employee to the AP on the condition of anonymity and on the condition that the document not be published.
Lewandowski dodged questions in an MSNBC interview about whether he himself had signed a nondisclosure agreement, although in May he did respond to reports that he was writing a book by writing on Twitter that he had a “strict confidentiality agreement with Mr. Trump.”
The effect of the agreement on Lewandowski has been clear. While he was fired in part because of criticisms Trump’s children had of his management of the campaign, he has consistently refused in interviews to speak critically about Trump or his family.
“I can say I’ve always had a great relationship with the family, and I think I continue to do so,” Lewandowski said in a CNN interview.
Trump has said that his nondisclosure agreements are “so airtight” that he has “never had a problem” with unauthorized disclosures.
Trump’s agreements also include clauses that are designed to keep any disputes over confidentiality out of courts and therefore out of the public eye. They stipulate that such disputes can, at Trump’s discretion, be submitted to the American Arbitration Association.
All this indicates the desire for control and the bargaining power of a very wealthy man, and there is not much surprising in that. However, Trump is running for president, and his remarks concerning confidentiality and the White House are worthy of scrutiny. According to the AP, “Trump has said he may try to similarly restrict what federal government employees can reveal about him if he were elected president.” One concern Trump has is the staffer who leaves government service and writes a tell-all book, a common enough practice in Washington. The leaked agreement specifically prohibits the release of confidential material in books, speeches and movies.
“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,” Trump has said.
Trump forgets that it is also the people who choose a man or woman to “go into government at high levels.” The President of the United States is not the president of a company. Or if that comparison is to be made, then we can consider that he or she is a president with a 350 million-person board of directors to whom to answer. The president is responsible for doing the people’s business, not building his own business, and what he does and says while in office is absolutely the people’s business. In fact, the Presidential Records Act stipulates that all White House communications, including emails, become publicly available within 12 years of the president’s leaving office.
Trump may want absolute control of his image and reputation, but as president he may have to acclimate himself to relinquishing some power. Either that, or we will continue to see the evolution of the office of president into that of emperor.
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