Steve Bannon’s return to his former role as executive chairman at Breitbart News may not be as easy a transition as he thought, because non-disclosure agreements and the news industry don’t really mesh.
Legal experts are pointing out that as President Trump’s now-former chief strategist, Bannon will have to keep his mouth shut about what went on during his tenure in the White House… or face serious consequences.
“People with Top Secret clearances are bound by a non-disclosure agreement for life,” noted Bradley Moss, a partner at the Law Office of Mark Zaid specializing in national security and security clearance law. “Any time Breitbart now prints classified information they might now be required to clear it with the government.”
The Trump administration announced Bannon’s ouster midday Friday, and Bannon says he resigned. Political pundits have been speculating that a long-standing internal rift between Bannon and other populists on Trump’s staff and more mainstream figures, such as Jared Kushner, caused the break-up.
Bannon basically marched himself right back to Breitbart, a publication he once described as a platform for the alt-right, immediately after leaving his White House post.
But considering the fact that news outlets frequently report on classified information they believe to be in the public interest, Bannon’s hands will be tied when it comes to tidbits he’s not allowed to disclose.
On Twitter, Susan Hennessey, a former attorney in the Office of General Counsel of the National Security Agency and current managing editor at the commentary website Lawfare, noted Bannon’s obligations go beyond simply not revealing classified data he would have been privy to.
“Bannon not only has prepublication obligations, he also has a legal duty to report if he ever learns of a classified leak. I’m able to work @lawfareblog because, unlike media outlets, we do not & will not publish classified info. Will Breitbart have same policy?” she wrote on Twitter.
I'm able to work @lawfareblog because, unlike media outlets, we do not & will not publish classified info. Will Breitbart have same policy?
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) August 18, 2017
There are other media personalities who have had security clearances, Moss pointed out, including the television host George Stephanopoulos. Enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement is often a function of what law enforcement decides to let someone get away with, she suggested.
However, Bannon’s significance at the White House and near immediate transition from a government position to a role in breaking news from an administration that has so recently declared war on leakers might be a problematic combination.
“If Breitbart suddenly gets a few scoops, it will be interesting to see how the Department of Justice will reply,” said Moss.
Moss suggested one way to get around the issue is for Breitbart to create an organization structure sequestering Bannon from stories that could potentially expose him to trouble.
In discussing his departure from the White House, Bannon said he would fight for the same agenda that helped Trump win the election.
“I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said. “It’s Bannon the Barbarian.”
“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over,” Bannon told the Weekly Standard Friday, soon after he confirmed his departure from the Trump administration.
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