Cummings Seeks Copies of Gag Orders on White House Staff
Washington, D.C. (May 14, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney renewing a request from last year for documents regarding nondisclosure agreements imposed on White House staff and whether these gag orders include legally-required language safeguarding the rights of federally-protected whistleblowers to report waste, fraud, and abuse to Congress.
“I made my request in 2018 because these actions raise serious questions about whether the White House is complying with the Whistleblower Protection Act, which requires nondisclosure agreements to include specific language highlighting the rights of federal whistleblowers to make protected disclosures to Congress,” Cummings wrote. “Gag orders without this required language could chill employees from reporting violations of law, waste, fraud, and abuse. As a result, the salaries of officials who enforce such illegal nondisclosure agreements may be withheld, according to federal law.”
Cummings wrote to the White House on March 20, 2018, along with Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee, after the Washington Post reported that White House staff members were being asked to sign agreements pledging not to disclose confidential information and potentially subjecting them to significant monetary damages. This report stated that some employees “balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied.” According to the report, “this confidentiality pledge would extend not only after an aide’s White House service but also beyond the Trump presidency.”
The White House never responded to this request, it never provided any of documents, and it never provided any explanation of its actions.
“As Chairman, I am now renewing this investigation—which is at the core of the Oversight Committee’s legislative and oversight jurisdiction—and I hope you will comply fully and voluntarily,” Cummings wrote.
In the meantime, additional concerns have been raised. For example, President Trump cited a nondisclosure agreement to criticize one of his former advisors, Cliff Sims, who served as Special Assistant to the President. Trump tweeted:
A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!
In order to evaluate whether the Whistleblower Protection Act and other laws need to be amended, revised, or strengthened, the Committee is now renewing this investigation and requesting the production of documents by May 28, 2019.
Click here to read today’s letter to the White House.