Court Rules Against Donald Trump On Secrecy Agreements

There are a lot of people who know a lot of very personal things about Donald Trump who are afraid to publicly spill the beans. It’s with good reason. For decades Trump has forced anyone who worked for him to sign seriously intimidating non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Even after he entered the presidential race in 2016 his lawyers continued to demand NDAs that seemed modeled on those he used previously in his personal and business affairs.

On Tuesday a federal judge ruled that those NDAs are way too broad and legally unenforceable. That ruling could open the floodgates for those who used to be within the twice-impeached former president’s orbit to start revealing potentially damaging secrets.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe ruled that the sweeping, boilerplate language the Trump campaign compelled employees to sign was so vague that the agreement was invalid under New York contract law. He issued the ruling in a case brought by Jessica Denson, who worked as a Hispanic outreach director for Trump in 2016. In a separate litigation she had accused the campaign of sex discrimination.

“As to the scope of the provision, it is – as a practical matter – unlimited. … Accordingly, Campaign employees are not free to speak about anything concerning the Campaign,” wrote Gardephe. “The non-disclosure provision is thus much broader than what the Campaign asserts is necessary to protect its legitimate interests, and, therefore, is not reasonable.” The judge also ruled that a non-disparagement clause included in the agreement also is flawed.

“The Campaign’s past efforts to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions demonstrate that it is not operating in good faith to protect what it has identified as legitimate interests,” the judge wrote. “The evidence before the Court instead demonstrates that the Campaign has repeatedly sought to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions to suppress speech that it finds detrimental to its interests.”

At one point earlier, the campaign persuaded an arbitrator to issue a $50,000 award against Denson for violating the agreement, but that award was later overturned. Yesterday, Denson celebrated the latest ruling, saying it dealt a death blow to a tactic Trump has long wielded to control his image.

“I’m overjoyed,” Denson told POLITICO. “This president … former president spent all four years aspiring to autocracy while claiming that he was champion of freedom and free speech. … There’s many people out there who have seen cases like mine and were terrified to speak out.

“Just the terms of the NDA were wildly restricting and it completely stifled public debate, truthful public debate about the Trump campaign and presidency, so this is a massive victory,” the former aide said. “NDAs like this are part of the reason why we ended up with a Donald Trump candidacy and presidency in the first place.”

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