Cliff Sims, the former White House communications aide who wrote an insider account of life working for President Trump, is suing the president in his official capacity, alleging that he used his campaign organization as a “cutout” to improperly seek retribution against former employees and keep them from invoking their First Amendment rights.
Mr. Sims was a White House aide from the beginning of the administration. But it was the campaign organization that filed an arbitration claim against him last week, accusing him of violating the nondisclosure agreement he signed with it during the 2016 presidential race with the publication of his book, “Team of Vipers,” last month.
The White House had dozens of people sign such agreements at the beginning of the president’s term. But those agreements are widely seen as likely unenforceable. In the suit, Mr. Sims says he does not recall whether he signed one when he came to the White House.
Mr. Sims’s lawsuit alleges that Mr. Trump “is seeking to impose civil liability against Mr. Sims through application of NDAs that apply to information Mr. Sims learned solely during his federal service.”
Mr. Trump was slow to react to “Team of Vipers.” But the president became increasingly angry about the book, which confirmed much of the real-time reporting about chaos at the White House and which included some less-than-flattering anecdotes about the president.
“A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” Mr. Trump tweeted at one point. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer.”
The suit notes that Mr. Trump appears to be selective in enforcing the nondisclosure agreements. For instance, it says, he attempted to enforce it against Omarosa Manigault Newman, whose book also infuriated him, but he did not do so against Sean Spicer, or Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, three former aides who wrote books that the president found flattering and therefore not objectionable.
The suit says Mr. Trump has made clear in his public comments that he has a “disdain of so-called ‘tell-all books’ written by former federal officials and his desire to apply NDAs to those who serve in the White House.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Washington on Monday, is the first from a former employee to allege that Mr. Trump is trying to circumvent standard practices about former employees who use unclassified information in their books, and to seek retribution that would not otherwise be available to him through the federal government.
“The Trump campaign’s demand for arbitration is nothing but a subterfuge for the actions of the” federal government, the suit alleges, and was “undertaken under express authorization and instruction, and certainly with the blessing of, President Trump.’
It continues, “These actions sufficiently and constructively qualify as state action for purposes of First Amendment jurisdictional authority.” It adds that the federal government has “infringed upon Mr. Sims’s First Amendment rights as a former federal employee and acted contrary to the interests of public policy.”
In a statement, Mr. Sims’s publishing house, St. Martin’s Press, said it supports the lawsuit.
“When presidents or their political campaigns seek to silence a voice, it is especially important that we maintain our steadfast commitment to free speech,” the statement said. “Recent attempts to selectively prevent former government employees from speaking and writing about their experience as public servants call for our scrutiny, and illustrate how essential the First Amendment is to the preservation of democracy.”