DOJ, Apparently Unaware Of 1st Amendment, Threaten Anonymous White House Official About To Release A Book

from the that's-not-how-this-works dept

In the past, when unflattering books about the Trump White House have been about to come out, the President has had one of his personal lawyers (such as the one famous for sending questionable threat letters to various media organizations) send dubious threat letters warning that the book not be published. However, since Trump often seems to think of the DOJ as his personal lawyers, perhaps it's no surprise that the DOJ has now sent a similar threat letter in an attempt to (1) block the publication of an allegedly anonymous White House official, and (2) identify who the individual is.

The book, called "A Warning" is apparently written by the person who last year wrote an anonymous NY Times op-ed revealing how staff in the administration worked to "thwart" parts of Trunmp's agenda to protect the country from his "worst inclinations." From all that's been revealed about the book so far, it sounds as though it won't be difficult for the administration to figure out who the author is based on what's included in the book, but they're still going for broke with this dumb strategy:

The Justice Department is going on the offensive against the anonymous author of "A Warning," telling them in a letter obtained by CNN Business that he or she may be violating "one or more nondisclosure agreements" by writing the anti-Trump book.

[.....]

"If the author is, in fact, a current or former 'senior official' in the Trump Administration, publication of the book may violate that official's legal obligations under one or more nondisclosure agreements, including nondisclosure agreements that are routinely required with respect to information obtained in the course of one's official responsibilities or as a condition for access to classified information," assistant attorney general Joseph H. Hunt wrote in the letter.

"Such agreements typically require that any written work potentially containing protected information be submitted for pre-publication review," Hunt added.

First off, this isn't how the 1st Amendment works (nor is it how the DOJ is supposed to act). Hell, even with the Snowden book, the worst the government did was seek to seize his profits. And that was because he actually had signed a lifetime pre-publication review contract, which is common for those in the intelligence community (though, there's an ongoing lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of such things). Here, they're literally trying to block the publication, which is clearly not allowed under the 1st Amendment -- and they don't seem to have any evidence that this person is in the intelligence community or signed such a contract. In other words, this is bluster on the level that Trump normally employs with his personal lawyers, and not something the DOJ should be engaged in at all.

The DOJ letter does ask the publisher, Hachette, to at least let the DOJ know if the individual had signed a pre-publication review:

"We request that you immediately provide us with your representations that the author did not sign any nondisclosure agreement and that the author did not have access to any classified information in connection with government service," Hunt's letter concluded. "If you cannot make those representations, we ask that you immediately provide either the nondisclosure agreements the author signed or the dates of the author's service and the agencies where the author was employed, so that we may determine the terms of the author's nondisclosure agreements and ensure that they have been followed."

Obviously, asking for the NDA or the dates of service are fairly obvious attempts to figure out who the author is. Again, this is beneath the DOJ.

Indeed, the group PEN America, which works on free expression for writers around the globe, has come out with a dead on, but harsh statement, calling this move "a new low" from this particular administration.

“While we’ve gotten used to seeing President Trump’s private attorneys send letters aimed to intimidate authors and book publishers, for the Justice Department to stoop to such tactics represents a new low. The administration doesn’t know who wrote the book nor what it says. Its claim that a non-disclosure agreement may have been violated is pure speculation.

“Instead, this letter is part of the Trump administration’s ongoing campaign to turn the tables on those who expose and call out its wrongdoing. If it turns out upon publication that the author has violated a legal obligation, the Justice Department can pursue remedies at that point. To try to deter publication or bully the author and publisher are an effort at censorship through the heavy hand of government. Hachette is right to deny this spurious request.”

The DOJ should not be acting as the President's personal censor, and it's shameful that it has agreed to do so.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anonymous, contracts, doj, donald trump, free speech, nda
Companies: hachette


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  1. identicon
    FooBarr, 6 Nov 2019 @ 9:37am

    Unless . . .

    That is, unless they signed a government equivalent to an NDA for employment in the White House (sort of like most people are subject to upon receiving a clearance). I know for the military it requires Pentagon review and approval of any book prior to publication, even after getting out, or you can be subjected to prosecution. In that case, the DOJ would be exactly the right entity to enforce the limitations.


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