Chairman of Committee on Oversight and Reform Elijah Cummings sent a letter last Tuesday informing Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney he was renewing his 2018 investigation and documents requests to the White House “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” and “threatened to withhold the salaries of White House officials who enforce nondisclosure agreements that lack protections for federal whistleblowers,” The Hill reported.
On March 28, 2018, I sent a letter to Chief of Staff John Kelly requesting documents and communications relating to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements signed by White House officials. I was joined in this request by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who served at that time as the Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary.
Our request was prompted, in part, by a report in the Washington Post 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 press 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.”
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. 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 requests include “copies of all nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements signed by any Executive Office of the President employees, interns, fellows or advisers, as well as any documents and communications relating to workers who raised concerns about the terms, by May 28.”
On May 7, according to The Hill in earlier reporting, Cummings sent similar letters threatening salaries to the departments of Interior, Commerce and Justice if they continue to block committee investigations.
“Please be advised that any official at the Department who ‘prohibits or prevents’ or ‘attempts or threatens to prohibit or prevent’ any officer or employee of the Federal Government from speaking with the Committee could have his or her salary withheld pursuant to section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act,” Cummings wrote in letters to each of the departments.