A former Donald Trump campaign staffer is suing to void her nondisclosure agreement, the third woman in Trump’s orbit to attempt to get out of such a contract.
NBC News reports that Jessica Denson, who worked on the 2016 Trump campaign, filed a federal lawsuit to release herself from the nondisclosure agreement. Denson claimed that Trump had “weaponized” the agreement to crush a $25 million discrimination lawsuit she filed against the Trump campaign last November. Denson says she was routinely harassed and discriminated against during her tenure.
Denson isn’t the only person tied to Trump who’s trying to get out of a nondisclosure agreement. Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who was paid $130,000 to stay quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, filed a lawsuit asserting that her “hush agreement” is invalid because Trump never signed it. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal is suing to break her agreement with the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., which gave McDougal $150,000 and a potential spot for some of her fitness columns in the tabloid in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. (David Pecker, American Media’s CEO, is a close friend of Trump’s.)
Denson, a Los Angeles-based actress and journalist, said she oversaw phone banks and Hispanic outreach for the campaign, which she joined in August 2016. She alleges that she faced repeated harassment, cyberbullying, and sexual discrimination and harassment during her employment, according to NBC News. (Denson’s supervisor accused her of leaking Trump’s tax returns, an allegation she denies.)
Denson is suing to get out of the NDA, she said, because the Trump campaign attempted to move her discrimination suit to arbitration and claimed she owed $1.5 million for violating the agreement. Denson said the NDA — which prohibited the disclosure of information about Trump and his family — was too broad, vague, and violated public policy.
Trump’s NDA preoccupation
Denson’s case may not be as explosive as Daniels’s or McDougal’s, but it shows Trump’s broad reliance on nondisclosure agreements. Ruth Marcus, a Washington Post opinion page editor, wrote in March that Trump had asked senior White House employees to sign contracts that required them to keep information from their time in service confidential, opening them up to potential monetary damages if they spilled any knowledge.
The impetus for the NDAs seems to have been the slew of leaks that poured from the White House in the early days of the Trump presidency; Trump, according to people who spoke to the Post, thought officials would reconsider chatting with reporters if they faced financial consequences to the reported tune of $10 million. Of course, with or without the nondisclosure agreements, the White House leaks haven’t exactly abated. (And technically, staffers violate longstanding rules when they leak classified information.)
Still, the use of NDAs for White House officials raised some serious red flags. White House officials are not just serving the president; they’re serving the American people and are duty-bound to uphold the Constitution. Trump also reportedly designed the NDAs so they’re still in effect after he leaves the White House. Given all this, it’s highly unlikely the NDAs are enforceable — but it’s clear that Trump is trying to run the White House as he ran his campaign and, most strikingly, the Trump Organization.
Trump trying to wrangle people into silence with nondisclosure agreements brings up the larger question of what, exactly, he’s afraid will get out. The three cases cover deals inked in different circumstances and with different parties, but they are all trying to shield Trump and stop potentially damaging information — alleged affairs in the case of Daniels and McDougal, and an alleged toxic work environment in another — from being made public.