The Obama presidency goes above and beyond in its quest to keep things from the press and the American people. But as bad as the Obama administration has been, by controlling the information reaching the public either directly, or via the press, early indications are that a Donald Trump administration will institute measures taking government secrecy obstructing the public’s right to know to a frightening new level. And by doing so he will attack the God given rights Thomas Jefferson described in the Declaration of Independence as endowed by our creator.
Back in February Mr. Trump threatened
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
What made that comment worrisome is that generally a state’s libel laws are based on a three-part test. For a news report to be considered libel today it must be untrue; defamatory; and published with an intent to harm, or a reckless disregard for the truth, basically what Trump said above. The element Trump is adding to the equation is the “sue them” part.
In the vast majority of cases Donald Trump will lose any libel suits against the press (a great explanation of why can be found here). Mr. Trump is a smart man and knows he can’t but he doesn’t need to win. What his chilling threat really means is that he will tie the press up with a series of law suits that, even if he loses each and every one the cost of lawyers, etc. will hurt the media/reporters’ bottom line long before the billionaire notices the expense. And remember Mr. Trump has a stable of lawyers who already work for his company.
If he follows through with a series of suits, the cost of defending and winning those suits will create financial hurt for reporting on legitimate, truthful stories that Mr. Trump might not like. That “hurt” will influence reporters to think twice (or even stay away) about reporting information that the public should know about.
Allow me to explain with a true story. My wife and I were attending a wedding. We were about to leave the church to go to the reception when the red Lamborghini pulling in front of us started to pull away from the curb, but had to stop short because another vehicle cut it off. The very wealthy owner of the Lamborghini screamed out at the offending driver, “you son of a bi*tch! I should have hit you. I can afford to fix my car and the higher insurance rates–you can’t.”
Donald Trump can afford the lawyer fees, in most cases the reporter/blogger/media company can’t.
Not included in the above are the vicious attacks by Trump, his team, and his supporters on reporters who have the nerve to ask a question or write a true report they don’t like. Say what you like about Megyn Kelly’s question in the first debate (and I believe it was legit) no question deserves the constant harassment she’s received from Trump and his team ever since, or the death threats from his supporters.
Very often in the corporate world an employee is forced to sign a “non-disclosure” form which requires an employee never to share any corporate info, or say anything nasty about the firm, or its management for a period of time (my last one was three years) or maybe even for the rest of their lives.
Obviously in the government world people sign non-disclosures about national secrets (something that Hillary Clinton disregarded). But in his recent interview with the Washington Post, Donald Trump says he will take government non-disclosures to a new level.
Were he to be elected president, Trump said he would want high-level employees of the federal government to sign legally binding nondisclosure agreements so that staffers couldn’t write insider accounts of what it’s like inside a Trump White House.
“When people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that,” Trump said.
Lets put it a different way. Someone works for a Trump or other administration at a senior non-cabinet level, perhaps in the Department of Justice. The person sees a wrong and resigns from the administration to become a whistle blower. Trump wants the administration protected by a non-disclosure to eliminate whistle blowers.
For those who believe that would never happen, you probably don’t recognize the name J. Christian Adams. Adams resigned from his position in the Voter Rights Division of the Department of Justice to be able to speak about the racism, perjury, and obstruction of justice surrounding the DOJ’s dropping of the election day 2008 voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther party.
Or what about Gregory Hicks? The number two person in the U.S. embassy in Libya who was the first State Department employee to break ranks and talk about what happened at Benghazi and the parts of the subsequent coverup he observed. That too might have been prevented by a non-disclosure agreement.
BTW Mr. Trump already requires his non-paid campaign volunteers sign an non-disclosure:
Donald Trump’s campaign requires volunteers to sign a contract that forbids them from criticizing the Republican presidential front-runner, his family members, any Trump businesses or products, or his campaign. The six-page contract, reviewed in full by the Daily Dot, theoretically lasts for the entirety of a volunteer’s life.
(…)A Daily Dot review of the contract found that the document extends beyond the non-disclosure agreement that was originally reported.
In addition to forbidding volunteers from disparaging Trump, the contract also includes a sentence that demands volunteers prevent their employees from criticizing Trump, thus making volunteers responsible for the free speech of others for an indeterminate amount of time.
Now add to the above a report in Politico on Tuesday, regarding Trump’s secret police, which prevents people who want to protest his rallies from getting inside. While it is perfectly justified to exclude protesters who are violent, or disrupt the proceedings, this security team keeps out all protesters or people they assume are protesters.
Trump’s security even flagged a New York Times reporter as suspicious partly because he had been spotted at the protest the night before. The reporter, John Eligon, who is African American, eventually was allowed inside the hotel to cover the rally, and he could be overheard explaining to Trump security officials that he had been present at the preceding night’s protest because he was covering it, not participating in it.
Non-violent protest and freedom of assembly are a staple of our rights as Americans. Along with freedom of the press and freedom of speech especially for whistleblowers. According to the Declaration of Independence those rights are not given to Americans by the government, they are “endowed by their [our] creator.”
Americans should be frightened that based on what he has displayed so far, Mr. Trump wants to take away some of those God-given rights for certain people. The only thing that can save America is to fight back. Donald Trump cannot take away the rights endowed our creator unless the American people allow him to take them away (like they’ve done with Obama).