SIMS v. TRUMP et al
COMPLAINT against ALL DEFENDANTS ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-5941048) filed by CLIFFORD DAVID Sims. (Attachments: #1 Civil Cover Sheet Civil Cover Sheet, #2 Summons - Donald J. Trump, #3 Summons - United States of America, #4 Summons - AG, #5 Summons - US Attorney)(Zaid, Mark)
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 1 of 12
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
CLIFTON DAVID SIMS
c/o Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
1250 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
DONALD J. TRUMP
in his official capacity,
Civil Action 19-_________
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
The Plaintiff Clifton David Sims brings this action against Defendants Donald J. Trump, in
his official capacity as President, and the United States of America for injunctive and declaratory
relief pursuant to the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act (“DJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2201 - 2202, and
the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The Defendants seek to unlawfully penalize and impose a prior restraint upon Mr. Sims with
respect to the publication and discussion of his book, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary
Days in the Trump White House (St. Martin’s Press, 2019)(“Team of Vipers”) and any
information he learned as a result of serving as a federal employee. The U.S. Government is
intentionally and unconstitutionally engaging in a subterfuge effort to use a private entity,
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 2 of 12
Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., to do its bidding to silence Mr. Sims when it is really the
intense powers of the Presidency coming down upon a sole individual.
This action seeks to permanently enjoin the Defendants from silencing Mr. Sims with respect
to any information he learned during his tenure as a federal employee, and any legal rights and
protections therefrom that may necessarily flow.
1. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331,
because Mr. Sims’ claims arise under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and
the DJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2201-2202.
2. Venue in this Court is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1) because Mr. Sims
resides in the District of Columbia. In addition, venue is also proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391(b)(2) because a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claims
occurred in the District of Columbia.
3. Plaintiff Clifton David Sims (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Sims”) is a resident of the District of
Columbia, and is a citizen of the United States. Mr. Sims previously worked for Donald J. Trump
for President, Inc. (“Trump Campaign”) as a Communications Advisor. From January 20, 2017,
up until May 2018, Mr. Sims was a federal employee serving as a Special Assistant to the
President. To the best of his understanding and recollection, Mr. Sims was never granted a
security clearance by the U.S. Government and is not subject to any pre-publication review
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 3 of 12
4. The Defendant Donald J. Trump (“President Trump”) is currently the President of the
United States. President Trump is being sued in his official capacity as President of the United
5. The Defendant United States of America is within the jurisdiction of this Court. It is
responsible for and is under the direction of President Trump.
6. This action seeks to protect the unequivocal and distinct constitutional rights of a former
federal employee to publish unclassified information, notwithstanding the existence of or attempt
by President Trump or the United States of America (collectively referred to as “USGOVT” or
“Defendants”) to enforce any non-disclosure agreements (“NDA”).
First Amendment Case Law
7. A private entity performs a “public function” and steps into the shoes of a state actor
when it seeks to exercise powers that have traditionally been the exclusive prerogative of the
USGOVT. See Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974). Imposing a prior
restraint upon the First Amendment rights of former federal employees regarding information
derived from their federal service has traditionally been the exclusive prerogative of the
USGOVT, and something it has addressed through the imposition of NDAs for certain
individuals who are processed for and granted access to U.S. Government classified information.
See Snepp v. United States, 444 U.S. 507, 510 n.3 (1980).
8. It has been an unquestioned cornerstone of First Amendment case law for decades,
however, that public employees do not surrender their constitutional rights merely by virtue of
their employment. Pickering v. Bd. of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968). Although that First
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 4 of 12
Amendment right for former federal employees only applies to unclassified information, see
Snepp, 444 U.S. at 513, the courts have nonetheless been clear in stating those First Amendment
rights to disclose unclassified information cannot be censored by the USGOVT, contractually or
otherwise. See McGehee v. Casey, 718 F.2d 1137, 1141 (D.C. Cir. 1983); United States v.
Marchetti, 466 F.2d 1309, 1312 (4th Cir. 1972).
9. This case law has formed the foundation for procedures addressing prepublication review
of former federal employees’ written manuscripts that remain in force to this day. Those
procedures, however, only apply to former federal employees who signed specific
documentation as part of their processing for access to classified information and who were
bound to submit writings to the USGOVT in advance for classification review prior to
10. This present action is necessary because the USGOVT has sought to circumvent these
well-established set of rules and procedures by having a private surrogate serve as an illegitimate
cutout and step into the shoes of the USGOVT. The USGOVT 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. That the Trump Campaign is acting at the President’s behest is not
surprising given President Trump’s personal comments throughout the presidential campaign
indicating his 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:
I think they should. You know, when somebody — and I see it all the time. . . .
And I don’t know, there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this. But
when people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then
they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things
that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that. I mean, I’ll be honest. And
people would say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re taking away his right to free speech.
Well, he’s going in. . . . I would say . . . I do have nondisclosure deals.
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 5 of 12
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/04/02/transcript-donald-trumpinterview-with-bob-woodward-and-robert-costa/?utm_term=.442d8c19b24d (last accessed
February 10, 2019).
11. In March 2018, The Washington Post revealed that, in the early days of the Trump
Administration, senior officials – at the behest of President Trump – were instructed by the
White House Counsel’s Office to sign NDAs that encompassed their work in the federal
government and that prohibited revealing “confidential” information. These NDAs were distinct
from the NDAs traditionally signed by officials as part of their processing for security clearances
and that would apply to classified information. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/
trumps-non disclosure-agreements-came-with-him-to-the-white-house/2018/03/18/226f452229ee-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html?utm_term=.c9f98be90852 (last accessed February 10,
12. Mr. Sims cannot definitively recall if he signed the additional NDA separately provided
by the White House Counsel’s Office to senior officials concerning “confidential” information,
and is currently operating upon the good faith assumption that he did do so.
“Team of Vipers” Publication
13. Mr. Sims was hired by the Trump Campaign in September 2016, to work as a
Communications Advisor. Subsequent to his hiring, Mr. Sims signed an NDA that prohibits the
disclosure of “confidential” information or the disparagement of the Trump Campaign, President
Trump, or his family.
14. Upon the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017, Mr. Sims became a
Special Assistant to the President and a federal employee. He specifically served as the Director
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 6 of 12
of Message Strategy in the White House. Mr. Sims left the White House and federal employment
in May 2018.
15. In November 2018, reports emerged that “Team of Vipers” was set to be released in
January 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/16/trump-white-house-cliff-sims-book996198 (last accessed February 10, 2019); http://www.aldailynews.com/cliff-sims-team-ofvipers-book-set-for-release-january-29/ (last accessed February 10, 2019). The reports were
ultimately confirmed by a press release issued by St. Martin’s Press, which stated the publication
date would be January 29, 2019.
16. As the publication date neared, exclusive excerpts from the book were published by
different media outlets and addressed issues such as leaks by senior White House staffers,
https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/ 01/trump-aide-recalls-conways-leaking-tactics-in-thewest-wing-vipers-nest (last accessed February 10, 2019), internal bureaucratic disputes between
President Trump and then-Chief of Staff John Kelly regarding foreign policy, https://www.breit
bart.com/politics/2019/01/24/exclusive-excerpts-from-team-of-vipers-john-kelly-overheardundermining-president-trump-on-syria/ (last accessed February 10, 2019), and heated arguments
between President Trump and then-Speaker of the House, Congressman Paul Ryan.
?utm_term=.d2dfe6290abb (last accessed February 10, 2019). Each of these excerpts dealt with
matters learned during Mr. Sims’ service as a federal employee.
17. Notwithstanding having full knowledge of the impending publication, at no time prior to
the public release of “Team of Vipers” on January 29, 2019, did the USGOVT take any action
against Mr. Sims or seek to prevent the book’s publication.
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 7 of 12
18. Within hours of the official release of “Team of Vipers”, President Trump exercised the
full authority of the Presidency when he stated on Twitter on January 29, 2019:
A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring
book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in
fact he was nothing more than a gofer. [sic] He signed a non-disclosure
agreement. He is a mess!
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1090244651578204160?s=20 (last accessed
February 10, 2019).
19. The White House and Department of Justice have previously made clear their view that
tweets by President Trump are “official statements” from the Office of the President.
(last accessed February 10, 2019); https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/nov/14/dojdonald-trump-tweets-are-official-statements-of/ (last accessed February 10, 2019).
20. Not even twenty minutes after President Trump’s tweet, and not as a matter of
coincidence, Michael Glassner, the Trump Campaign Chief Operating Officer, tweeted: “The
Trump campaign is preparing to file suit against Cliff Sims for violating our NDA.”
https://twitter.com/michaelglassner/status/1090249001746747392 (last accessed February 10,
21. On January 31, 2019, the Trump Campaign publicly revealed that it had filed an
arbitration claim against Mr. Sims for purported breaches of an NDA. The Demand for
Arbitration seeks monetary damages, as well as the return of all information and materials
encompassing Mr. Sims’ tenure in the White House and to enjoin Mr. Sims from making
“disparaging statements” or commenting further regarding “confidential” information derived
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 8 of 12
from his time in the White House. See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-0131/trump-campaign-says-former-aide-sims-violated-nda-with-new-book (last accessed
February 10, 2019); https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/war-trumpcampaign-sues-ex-aide-author-of-tell-all-team-of-vipers (last accessed February 10, 2019).
22. The Arbitration proceeding specifically and solely refers to substantive matters that took
place while Mr. Sims was a federal employee serving in the White House. https://www.washing
tonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/war-trump-campaign-sues-ex-aide-author-of-tell-all-teamof-vipers (last accessed February 10, 2019). Notwithstanding that fact, this action does not seek
to intervene, interfere or otherwise stop the arbitration proceedings, as those will be separately
and independently challenged.
23. This is not the first time an NDA involving President Trump has become the source of
contention. It was reported a similar arbitration proceeding was initiated by the Trump Campaign
against former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman for publication of her 2018 book
“Unhinged”, which details her time working for the USGOVT. https://www.washingtontimes.
com/news/2019/jan/29/cliff-sims-team-vipers-book-made-stories-and-ficti/. Upon information
and belief, President Trump also directed, instructed and/or authorized the Trump Campaign to
pursue Ms. Manigault-Newman’s alleged violation of an NDA notwithstanding the fact her book
constitutes constitutionally protected speech.
24. It was also reported that lawyers for President Trump threatened Steve Bannon, the
former White House Chief Strategist, on the basis that he had also violated an NDA regarding
comments he made regarding his time in governmental service. See http://time.com/5518135/
donald-trump-non-disclosure-agreements/ (last accessed February 10, 2019).
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 9 of 12
25. Yet other books authored by those who either served in the White House and/or with the
Trump Campaign have not led to the initiation of any type of legal or arbitration proceedings.
See Sean Spicer, “The Briefing: Politics, The Press, and The President” (Regnery Publishing,
2018); Corey Lewandowski, “Trump's Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the
Presidency” (Center Street, 2018).
Trump Campaign Is Being Directed And/Or Controlled By Governmental Personnel
And Being Used For Governmental Purposes
26. Upon information and belief, President Trump is directing, authorizing and/or otherwise
approving substantive decisions of the Trump Campaign that are governmental in nature and for
the purposes of concealing USGOVT involvement in order to silence Mr. Sims in a manner that
would otherwise be unavailable under existing First Amendment case law.
27. Upon information and belief, funds held by the Trump Campaign are being used to
compensate attorneys, including those in the Arbitration proceeding against Mr. Sims and others,
who are acting in the place of USGOVT attorneys. Trump campaign funds are also reportedly
being utilized to compensate attorneys for Jared Kushner, a Trump family member and senior
federal employee, for matters related to his government service. See https://abcnews.go.com/
(last accessed February 10, 2019).
28. The USGOVT, for the first time ever through the use of private surrogates, is seeking to
unconstitutionally censor and punish a former federal employee for disclosing unclassified
information outlining what he saw and observed during his time in the White House. To permit
this circumvention of decades of judicial and institutional precedent regarding the First
Amendment rights of former federal employees would chill free speech and impermissibly
censor the disclosure of information of public interest regarding the actions of the USGOVT.
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 10 of 12
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
(FIRST AMENDMENT/DECLARATORY JUDGMENT)
29. The plaintiff, Mr. Sims, repeats and realleges paragraphs 6 through 28 above, inclusive.
30. Mr. Sims has a constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution to be free from unlawful infringement upon or restraint of his ability to
disclose unclassified information regarding which he learned during his tenure as a federal
31. The actions of the USGOVT seek to penalize Mr. Sims for exercising his First
Amendment right to disclose unclassified information regarding which he learned during his
tenure as a federal employee. The actions of the USGOVT further seek to prohibit any further
remarks or statements by Mr. Sims regarding unclassified information he learned during his
tenure as a federal employee, as well as demand the return of information or materials Mr. Sims
has in his possession from his tenure as a federal employee.
32. The Trump Campaign’s Demand for Arbitration is nothing but a subterfuge for the
actions of the USGOVT and were undertaken under express authorization and instruction, and
certainly with the blessing of, President Trump. These actions sufficiently and constructively
qualify as “state action” for purposes of First Amendment jurisdictional authority. Plainly
speaking, the USGOVT has infringed upon Mr. Sims’ First Amendment rights as a former
federal employee and acted contrary to the interests of public policy.
33. Due to the actions of the USGOVT, Mr. Sims could suffer monetary penalties for the
publication of “Team of Vipers”, as well as for any future remarks – whether written or verbal –
he makes in the future regarding his tenure in President Trump’s White House.
34. Thus, Mr. Sims has suffered or may suffer actual adverse and harmful effects, including,
but not limited to, possible civil penalties, a delay in being able to timely comment on
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 11 of 12
information of public interest, and/or lost or jeopardized present or future financial opportunities,
which impairs his ability to serve the public.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff Clifton David Sims respectfully requests that this Honorable Court:
1. Enter a declaratory judgment in favor of the Plaintiff declaring that the Defendants may
not enforce, whether directly or through non-U.S. Government cutouts, any nondisclosure
agreements that seek to unconstitutionally infringe upon his First Amendment rights;
2. Permanently enjoin the Defendants from initiating or pursuing further proceedings
against the Plaintiff for publication of unclassified information regarding which he learned
during his tenure as a federal employee;
3. Award the Plaintiff the costs of the action and reasonable attorney fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act or any other applicable law;
4. Award any appropriate compensation to the Plaintiff for any losses suffered or expenses
incurred due to the Defendants’ actions; and
5. grant such other relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
Case 1:19-cv-00345 Document 1 Filed 02/11/19 Page 12 of 12
Date: February 11, 2019
Mark S. Zaid
D.C. Bar #440532
Bradley P. Moss, Esq.
D.C. Bar #975905
Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
1250 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 330-5610 fax
Attorneys for Plaintiff
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?