President Trump gestures as he speaks at a rally at Olentangy Orange High School in Lewis Center, Ohio, on Aug. 4. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Opinion writer

President Trump’s lawyers filed an arbitration claim in the vain attempt to shut up former White House aide and reality TV star Omarosa Manigault Newman. It is virtually inconceivable that the claim can be enforced to silence her about her time in the White House.

Bradley P. Moss writes in accordance with every reputable attorney we have heard on the subject in explaining that the suit is “of no consequence. … This [nondisclosure agreement] can no more contractually bind her to surrender her First Amendment rights than could the NDA she was offered after her departure from government,” Moss says.

He offers this insight:

This obviously is a frustrating legal stumbling block for the president, who has long made clear his preference for non-disclosure agreements to silence anyone who was once within his inner circle. However, as so many of us warned while he was running for president, overseeing your own private business and being the elected head of government are two very different legal worlds. Part and parcel of being the most powerful person on the planet and the leader of a constitutional republic is the corresponding limitation on your ability to silence detractors.

What is remarkable are the lengths Trump goes to shut up critical voices. His lawyer at the time paid hush money to Stormy Daniels. He has been caught on tape discussing hush money to cover up another woman with whom he allegedly had an extramarital affair, Karen McDougal. He apparently insists that his company’s employees sign nondisclosure agreements and tried this with campaign and White House aides as well. He is infamous for threatening to sue individuals and publications who are critical of him. He has threatened and tried to intimidate the press by whipping up his base at rallies, labeling the press the enemy of the people, threatening to pull the (nonexistent) license of NBC and aimed to use the post office to retaliate against Amazon, whose founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post. He has threatened to revoke the security clearances of former officials who criticize him.

From a constitutional perspective, this is abhorrent and indicative of Trump’s contempt for democracy. His rhetoric about “fake news” has been echoed by despots around the world who crack down or even kill journalists. (In the latest incident, three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic.) The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed 35 killings worldwide so far this year who were specifically targeted as journalists. In 2017, 262 journalists were imprisoned around the world for doing their job. The name of the game, whether it is Trump or a Third World despot is the same: Control facts. Intimidate and eliminate criticism, thereby making accountability impossible.

But let’s also look at Trump’s vendetta against free speech from a personal perspective. What is he trying to hide? Seriously, no White House (not even the Nixon White House) has demonstrated such abject fear of inside stories. The common explanation is that this is how he operated as a wealthy businessman, so this is par for the course. However, lots and lots of wealthy people don’t pay hush money, demand nondisclosure agreements and/or threaten litigation at the drop of the hat.

Another possibility: Trump, biographers and former employees tell us, has a narcissistic personality that cannot tolerate criticism. Perhaps, but it is also possible there are very good reasons to insist on silence.

You’ll recall the “red line” Trump drew about investigating his businesses. He might as well have stuck a neon sign on Trump Tower: “Shady stuff. Do not look.” In short, Trump doesn’t like criticism, to put it mildly, but what he is deathly afraid of is letting the world see what’s going on behind the scenes. You do have to ask what is so terrible that he cannot bear the thought of disclosure?