It’s now been more than two weeks since President Donald Trump boldly proclaimed on Twitter that Obama had his “wires tapped” at Trump Tower. The Speaker of the House and the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees all say there is no indication that such a thing occurred. FBI Director James Comey reportedly said privately that he doesn’t believe that Trump Tower was wiretapped. The claim appears to be, well, totally untrue — a falsity! And now several legal experts are saying that President Barack Obama could have a pretty strong defamation case against President Trump for spreading rumors about Obama possibly committing a crime.
44 v. 45 now looks like a very good libel case even under the high standard for libel against public figures
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) March 17, 2017
“An accusation of illegal wiretapping which would likely be criminal if a government official ordered it. Accusing someone of a crime is actionable as libel,” Richard Painter, who served as President George W. Bush‘s ethics lawyer told LawNewz.com.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court case The New York Times v. Sullivan, the actual malice standard, which is necessary to establish libel against public figures like Obama, requires that the publisher of a false statement (Trump) knew that the statement was false — or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.
“Malice and reckless disregard for the truth. That is the NYT v. Sullivan standard. Clearly met,” Painter contends.
However, it can get murky. An Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled the failure to investigate the truth behind a rumor isn’t enough to prove actual malice.
The question is whether Donald Trump knew what he was saying was false — which could be difficult to prove or that he had “serious doubts” about the “wiretapping” claim’s veracity. Perhaps, Trump could show a jury that he really believed what he was saying was true, but that seems unlikely — given the fact that so far, he hasn’t been able to provide any evidence to back up his claims.