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Trump loses case meant to silence former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman

In this Aug. 14, 2019, file photo, former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in New York.   (Mary Altaffer)
By David A. Fahrenthold The Washington Post

A New York arbitrator has rejected former president Donald Trump’s claim that Omarosa Manigault Newman - a former contestant on “The Apprentice” and presidential aide - violated a nondisclosure agreement by writing a tell-all book about Trump.

The arbitrator declared the agreement was invalid, because it was too vague to be enforced.

Arbitrator T. Andrew Brown ruled that Trump’s campaign would now have to pay Newman’s legal fees.

“It’s over. We’ve won in Donald Trump and the Trump Campaign’s chosen forum,” said John Phillips, Manigault Newman’s attorney, in a written statement. Phillips said the win should encourage others who signed similar agreements with Trump’s campaign: “People who signed these NDA’s should sleep better and speak more freely.”

Trump responded with a statement that attacked Manigault Newman personally and did not mention the arbitration. Trump has long required staffers for both his companies and his campaigns to sign nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from disparaging him. But that strategy has appeared to unravel this year, after this arbitrator - and a federal judge in a separate case - said the agreements were invalid.

The decision in Manigault Newman’s case was filed Friday in New York. It was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.

Manigault Newman, a famously hard-edged contestant on the first season of “The Apprentice,” signed the nondisclosure agreement while she was working for Trump’s 2016 campaign. She later joined the White House as a senior staffer, but was fired in late 2017.

In 2018, Newman wrote a book about Trump called “Unhinged,” in which she depicted Trump as bigoted and racist and disparaged his mental capacity. She also said that she had secretly tape-recorded conversations with Trump, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Trump’s daughter-in-law.

After that, Trump’s campaign filed the arbitration action, saying that Manigault Newman had violated an agreement not to disclose “confidential information.” The arbitration action is not a court case, but Trump and Manigault Newman had agreed to abide by the decision.

In his ruling, Brown rejected Trump’s argument, saying that the agreement defined “confidential” too broadly. It was defined to mean “all information … that Mr. Trump insists remain private.”

But how, Brown asked, could Manigault Newman know if she was disclosing confidential information if the line between confidential and not-confidential was shifting and determined only by Trump himself?

“The Agreement effectively imposes on [her] an obligation to never say anything remotely critical of Mr. Trump, his family or his or his family members’ businesses, for the rest of her life,” Brown wrote. “Such a burden is certainly unreasonable.”

In addition, Brown said, Manigault Newman had not revealed any hard data taken from her time on the campaign, like polling numbers or donors’ phone numbers.

Instead, Brown wrote, her statements are “for the most part simply expressions of unflattering opinions, which are deemed ‘confidential information’ based solely upon the designation of Mr. Trump.”

Brown’s decision echoed a federal judge’s ruling earlier this year, involving another 2016 Trump campaign staffer, Jessica Denson, who signed a similar nondisclosure agreement. In that case, Denson herself asked a judge to declare the agreement invalid.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe agreed, saying that the agreement allowed only Trump to decide what was forbidden to share.

“It is thus impossible for Denson to know what speech she has agreed to forego,” he wrote.