Donald Trump does not take criticism well, as recent interviews and statements have shown. The presidential candidate not only would censor employees in a Trump White House, he already requires non-paid campaign volunteers to sign unprecedented non-disclosure forms. Furthermore, Trump said he wants to change libel laws that would make it easier to sue media that publishes unflattering news about him.
A Censored Trump White House?
Trump would silence high-ranking federal officials if elected president, he said in a wide-ranging interview with the Washington Post on April 2.
As the Post reported, “Trump said he would want high-level employees of the federal government to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements so that staffers couldn’t write insider accounts of what it’s like inside a Trump White House.”
“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’s “Unconscionable” Non-Disclosure Form
His statement came just weeks after the Daily Dot revealed that Trump’s campaign has all non-paid volunteers sign a non-disclosure agreement, forbidding them from “speaking negatively about Trump during or after the campaign.”
Among the rights that non-paid volunteers for Trump’s campaign must sign away, the following is a telling example.
“2. No Disparagement. During the term of your service and at all times thereafter you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer, in each case by or in any of the Restricted Means and Contexts and to prevent your employees from doing so.”
The Daily Dot report noted that since there is no end-date on the Trump campaign’s non-disclosure form, it “theoretically lasts for the entirety of a volunteer’s life.” Furthermore, the nature of the non-disclosure form “stands in stark contrast to not only American political-campaign norms but also Trump’s reputation for speaking his mind.”
The latter statement was a reference to Trump’s many off-the-cuff statements and tweets that have caused controversy about him and his campaign.
Donald Trump: ‘I Alone Can Solve’ Scourge Of Radical Islamhttps://t.co/Hkvbp78mI8
— Jonah Bennett (@BennettJonah) March 28, 2016
The Daily Dot also found that the Trump non-disclosure agreement extends beyond the 2016 presidential campaign.
“In the event of a Trump victory in November’s general election, the non-compete clause could extend until his 2020 reelection campaign or even 2024, at the end of a second Trump term, the document explains. If Trump loses but wants to run again in the next election or in any presidential election in the future, the contract states the volunteer cannot work for another candidate.”
“The Trump campaign did not respond to our request for comment,” the Daily Dot reported.
Can Trump’s Non-Disclosure Form Be Enforced?
As NBC News reports, it is typical for paid employees to sign such forms, as they are financially compensated in return. But as employment lawyer Davida Perry told NBC, “This sort of an agreement would not be enforceable.”
“[Trump’s] campaign isn’t giving the volunteer anything in exchange for their agreement to not speak about what they see or hear.”
NBC noted that another lawyer, Jeanne Christensen, “says that because volunteers are donating their work for nothing, a contract attempting to legally silence them is so… ‘one-sided’ that courts would find it ‘unconscionable,’ and probably unenforceable.”
Donald Trump Wants To Change Media Libel Laws
These revelations are only the latest controversies centering around Trump’s relationship with the media. On February 25, the Washington Post reported that Trump wants to ” ‘open up’ libel laws to make suing the media easier.”
Trump wants to "open up the libel laws." Threatens litigation when president vs NYT, WaPo etc. The defense currently against libel is truth
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) February 26, 2016
“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump told a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, according to CNN.
But as with the non-disclosure forms, it is difficult to see how this could actually be enforced, since the First Amendment to the Constitution states that Congress shall not make any law “prohibiting the free exercise… of the press.”
The Post noted that the only conceivable way for Donald Trump to succeed is to nominate federal judges who would, in time, reverse the 1964 Supreme Court decision of New York Times v. Sullivan, which set the current standard for libel laws.
According to this decision, the plaintiff must prove “actual malice.” In other words, a person must prove that a media outlet intended to cause harm to their subject, which is very difficult to prove.
Trump would seek to lower the bar, and thus make it easier to win lawsuits against the media.
What do you think? Is Donald Trump right to censor his critics in this matter? Or, does he go too far?
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]