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Barack Obama May Sue Trump for Libel

Barack Obama May Sue Trump for Libel
Former President Barack Obama 

President Donald Trump’s newest pivot might be his way to divert attention from his own Russia troubles by leveling a Watergate-level conspiracy allegation at former President Barack Obama.

But this latest assertion that Obama ordered illegal surveillance of Trump Tower during the 2016 election — tweeted without evidence — could build and get the president into some legal hot water.

The Obama administration has strongly denied President Donald Trump's claims that Barack Obama wire-tapped his phones at Trump Tower before the election.

Obama's spokesman Kevin Lewis released a statement Saturday afternoon refuting Trump's wire-tapping claims.

'A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,' Lewis wrote. 'As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.'

However, the statement did not deny that another federal agency may have sought authorization to listen in on Trump Towers and received it.

Lewis' statement comes shortly after Trump fired off a flurry of tweets early Saturday morning claiming that the former president had been spying on him in October, a month before his election victory.

'Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!' the president wrote on Twitter. Although the law provides a great deal of leeway for political speech, that protection is not all encompassing. And because of the way Trump has levelled unsubstantiated accusations at Obama, he may have libelled his predecessor.

“He’s basically stating that Mr. Obama committed crimes, and to state that somebody has committed a crime when it’s false is clearly defamatory,” said Benjamin Zipursky, who teaches defamation law at Fordham University Law School in New York.

“The question is: Is there enough evidence of serious reckless disregard to send that case to a jury?”

Zipursky added. “I don’t know what a court would decide on that, but there is some evidence of recklessness.” It’s difficult for public figures to win libel cases. Most courts rule against them because the assumption is that they have chosen to make their lives an open book, which means people will talk about them. But past Supreme Court cases have created a basic standard that seeks to answer two legal questions: Was the statement false?

Did the person know it was false or was he or she reckless about whether it was false? The answer to both questions must be yes, and that could be a difficult conclusion to draw. “What the plaintiff has to show is that the defendant has said, written or tweeted something that is a false statement of fact that harms the reputation of the defendant, and because Obama is a public official, you have to show that it was done with some sort of intent to harm,” said Jay Wexler, a professor of constitutional law at Boston University Law School. Despite that high threshold, a fair amount of evidence is beginning to build that Trump might have crossed the legal line.

A senior U.S. official told NBC News that FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department over the weekend to publicly reject Trump’s claims because they were untrue.

A spokesman for Obama said Sunday that Trump’s tweets were “unequivocally false,” and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, flatly denied any wiretap of Trump Tower on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In addition, it seems that Trump did not try to ask his own administration whether the scenario was true.

A senior U.S. official in a position to know told NBC News that Trump “did not consult with the people inside the U.S. government who might know before making this claim.” Then, on Sunday, the White House called for a congressional investigation into illegal wiretapping of the Trump campaign.

“President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.

As the evidence that Trump’s charge is false piles on top of the proof that he did not try to fact-check it, experts say he is treading on troubling ground.

“I think the plaintiff would claim that it’s untrue and the burden would be on Trump, the defendant, to prove truth,” Wexler said.

Trump himself has threatened lawsuits against many people and publications since he entered the public eye, but he brought only seven of those cases to court, according to USA Today. Of those seven, he won only one.

Despite the possible case, it is unlikely that Obama would sue Trump for libel. Predecessors tend to give the succeeding president a fair amount of room, and the president is provided some protections from civil suits.

The Supreme Court’s 1982 decision Nixon v. Fitzgerald found that a president is provided absolute immunity from civil damages and liability while conducting presidential acts.

“President Trump has official immunity from liability and damages,” Zipursky confirmed, but it is not clear that judges would view tweeting a defamatory conspiracy theory, without evidence, as a president carrying out his official duties.

Source: NBC News
Barack Obama May Sue Trump for Libel Barack Obama May Sue Trump for Libel Reviewed by on 3/06/2017 Rating: 5

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