The Trump campaign has recently filed hundreds of arbitration counts against Omarosa Manigault-Newman over a confidentiality agreement she signed, the former White House employee and “Apprentice” star said Wednesday.
But the alleged violations we know about don’t concern Newman’s campaign work — even though the Trump campaign is the entity challenging them. Rather, the campaign is going after her for records and descriptions of her work as a Trump administration official.
According to a copy of the arbitration complaint that Newman filed in court Wednesday, that includes her trashing Trump to the television personality Ross Matthews, during an episode of TV show “Celebrity Big Brother” that aired in February 2018, two months after she was fired from the White House.
The alleged violations stumped media law experts.
“She was a federal government employee in the White House. I don’t see how a [non-disclosure agreement] signed with the Trump campaign, on the side, could trump the First Amendment,” David Heller, deputy director of the Media Law Resource Center, told TPM Thursday. “Nothing is normal here.”
Trump “cannot constitutionally block her from exercising her First Amendment rights other than with respect to classified information,” the national security attorney Mark Zaid told TPM.
Zaid criticized the arrangement in 2018 as well, writing that NDAs for government workers “are unconstitutional on their face.”
“The law is crystal clear on this issue,” he told TPM.
The news trickled out in a court filing Wednesday for a separate case: The Justice Department alleged in 2019 that Newman knowingly failed to file a required financial disclosure form after being fired.
Federal prosecutors are pursuing discovery in that case, but Newman responded Wednesday that she risked exposing herself to even more “bad faith litigation” from the Trump campaign if she complied with federal prosecutors’ requests for documents. She cited the campaign arbitration documents as proof.
The campaign first filed an arbitration action against Newman in mid-2018.
At the time, they said her new tell-all book about her White House service, “Unhinged,” had broken a confidentiality agreement Newman had signed as a 2016 Trump campaign employee.
While promoting the book, Newman released conversations she’d secretly recorded with then-chief of staff John Kelly and President Trump — which the campaign said violated Newman’s campaign pledge not to disclose confidential or disparaging information about Trump.
The campaign also went after Newman for her remarks about Trump on the reality show “Celebrity Big Brother,” after she left her White House job. The damage was worth “millions of dollars,” the campaign said.
“I was haunted by tweets every single day, like what is he going to tweet next?” Newman told Matthews on the show, part of a longer conversation in which she trashed Trump.
That quote and others were listed in the campaign’s complaint against Newman. In legalese, Newman “materially breached the Agreement by, among other things, disclosing Confidential Information and making disparaging statements about Trump Persons,” the campaign alleged.
On Wednesday, Newman’s lawyers said in a filing that the campaign “recently added nearly four hundred additional counts to the arbitration action and is keeping tabs on everything she says and does.”
“We are at a complete loss,” the attorneys pleaded.
This isn’t an arbitration case of a private employee disparaging a private employer, Heller told TPM.
Those types of legal actions, he said, are “what actors do all the time with nannies and their household staff — but you can’t do that with government employees.”
Descriptions and records of government work are “sort of an awkward and totally unusual thing to be asking an arbitrator to decide,” he added.
Federal prosecutors in Newman’s financial disclosure case said the records they’re seeking in discovery “do not relate” to the things laid out in the campaign’s confidentiality agreement. And Newman’s lawyers said that they agreed with that assessment.
But, they said, “that does not eliminate the weaponization of lawsuits filed against her or the attorneys fees she has incurred to defend even the most frivolous claims.”
Zaid said the situation was unprecedented — and exhausting.
“Watching anything relating to President Trump’s enforcement of non-disclosure agreements is like watching a tennis match and the ball going back and forth across the net,” he said. “It is incredibly tiresome on one’s neck.”
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