Could Barack Obama Sue Donald Trump For Libel?

Donald Trump caused a media firestorm over the weekend for tweeting that former President Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower phone lines during the 2016 presidential election.

READ: Barack Obama Denies Donald Trump’s Claim That He Wiretapped Him During Election

A spokesperson for Obama said that the accusations against him are “simply false,” and that a cardinal rule of the former presidential administration was “that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.”

Slate writer John Culhane unveiled an article that says that Obama has the possibility to sue Trump for libel, however, a libel case against a sitting President has the possibility for hurdles.

According to the piece, “Under the prevailing law in most states, a plaintiff can win by showing that the statement is false, that the defendant “published” it, and that the plaintiff’s reputation was harmed as a result. In this case, “publishing” means that the defaming information was communicated in such a way that people could understand it. If the communication is in writing, it’s called libel and damages are presumed from the false publication itself.”

The famous libel case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan makes it a lot more challenging for Obama to win a libel case against Trump if he wanted to sue. Obama would have to prove that Trump made the statement in “reckless disregard” for the truth, meaning he has to prove that Trump knew the statement was false when he tweeted it. That could be simple, however, Culhane writes that since he is the President, Trump gets certain protections from civil lawsuits.

“As the court said in 1972, in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, the president is ‘an easily identifiable target for civil damages,'” the article says, but the protections of his position give him “absolute immunity” in a civil case, due to the President’s “unique office.”

Although Trump would be saved by his political position, his murky relationship with the judicial branch thanks to the first go-around for his immigration ban could possibly make his immunity more challenging.

READ: 10 Things Obama Is Busy Doing Instead Of Sabotaging The Trump Administration

Read the entire piece here.