President Donald Trump's White House is forcing interns to sign non-disclosure agreements, the Daily Beast reported Thursday. If the new White House interns refuse, they're threatened with financial ruin.
Zoe Jackman, the director of the internship program welcomed interns into the White House earlier this year, but a representative from the White House counsel's office then demanded they sign the form. It was during the orientation meeting, called an "ethics training," when the counsel's office warned the youngsters about the consequences of leaking information to the media.
"Interns were also told that they would not receive their own copies," The Beast reported, citing inside sources.
The demand of NDA's for government workers has been a legal concern since the Trump administration entered the building. Past campaign staffers were forced to sign them, but that was a private business operation. Government workers have different standards and rules, legal scholars explained.
The Washington Post obtained a draft of the non-disclosure agreement, which threatens violators with a $10 million penalty for each offense.
Yet, when asked about details by CNN's Jake Tapper in 2018, the White House said in a statement that staffers “were never asked or required to sign NDAs with $10 million clauses. Beyond that, we do not discuss security or personnel matters.”
“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,” the Beast quoted former Obama National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price. “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.”
“A public employee can’t be forced to sign away the right to speak,” law professor Mark Fenster of the University of Florida told Reuters.
“These NDAs strike me as clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” law professor Heidi Kitrosser of the University of Minnesota agreed.
Liz Hempowicz of the non-profit Project on Government Oversight (POGO) explained that there are caveats on free speech for government workers but the broad way in which the NDAs are said to be written might be too much. However, she warned against claims it’s unconstitutional.
When former staffer Cliff Sims came out with his tell-all book the Trump campaign launched a lawsuit for violating his NDA. Sims, however, was a White House staffer, so it's unclear why the campaign is suing him.
In past administrations, NDAs were handed out to those dealing with classified information, but NDAs like Trump's are unheard of, the Beast said.
Former Trump campaign staffer Jessica Denson has already launched her own class-action lawsuit against the NDAs.