In the midst of the shocking wiretapping claims made against former President Obama by Donald Trump over the weekend, many are wondering if libel may have been committed. After Trump took to Twitter with his unprecedented claims that Obama had Trump tower wiretapped during the election, an Obama spokesperson unequivocally denied that such wiretapping had ever taken place, reports CNN.
“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. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
Great point on MSNBC. Trump may have committed libel by falsely accusing Obama of wiretapping. Misdemeanor in Florida. Impeachable offense. pic.twitter.com/lCasORMBFy— NatlParksUnderground (@NatParkUndrgrnd) March 5, 2017
FBI Director James Comey took a similar stance regarding the Trump wiretapping claims, reportedly calling on the Justice Department to refute the Trump Twitter allegations. So far, the Department of Justice, headed by Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has declined to do so. However, neither Donald Trump nor his administration has provided any proof to back up his Obama wiretapping claims, and the media is widely calling Trump’s claims unsubstantiated.
Here are the Trump tweets that started the Obama wiretapping accusations and spawned a media frenzy.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The tweets immediately went viral after they were written early on Saturday morning. Ironically (or perhaps not), the Obama wiretapping tweets were sent out just one day after Trump was said to have verbally berated members of his senior staff in the Oval Office and two days after AG Sessions recused himself from investigating the alleged Trump/Russia connection. As CNN reports, video of the heated Oval Office meltdown involving Trump and Bannon was captured by the press.
Less than 24 hours after the video above was shot, Trump levied seemingly baseless accusations of wiretapping against former President Obama. As NBC News reports, the Trump wiretapping allegations could potentially get the new POTUS into some “legal hot water” if he can’t provide proof to back up his claims that Trump Tower was secretly wiretapped and that Obama, who has denied involvement through his reps, was behind it.
As President, Trump is inherently provided with a large amount of leeway when it comes to political speech. However, that doesn’t allow him to simply accuse political rivals of committing crimes or behaving unethically. If Barack Obama truly didn’t order the Trump Tower wiretapping, Donald Trump could very well have libeled the former POTUS with his Twitter storm.
According to Fordham University Law School defamation law professor Benjamin Zipursky, Trump is definitely accusing Obama of a crime with his wiretapping claims.
“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. The question is: Is there enough evidence of serious reckless disregard to send that case to a jury? I don’t know what a court would decide on that, but there is some evidence of recklessness.”
@N_4_B Being reckless also applies, which he clearly would be since he's the POTUS and could have easily checked to see if it were true— NatlParksUnderground (@NatParkUndrgrnd) March 5, 2017
In the past, politicians, entertainers, and other so-called “public figures” have struggled to find legal victories when it comes to libel cases. The reason? In many cases, courts don’t rule in their favor because they have chosen to “make their lives an open book.” However, the SCOTUS has ruled that public figures can successfully for libel, provided two legal standards have been met.
Those standards are whether the allegedly libelous statement(s) made against the public figure is false and whether the person who made the statement knew it was false or was reckless about whether it was false.
In layman’s terms, Obama would have to prove that Trump both lied about the wiretapping and knew (or should have known) that he was lying when tweeted the accusations against the former POTUS.
If both answers are “yes,” it is possible that Obama could successfully sue Trump for libel over his public wiretapping allegations.
What Is Libel vs. Slander? Trump Tweets About Obama Wiretapping Could Be Defamatoryhttps://t.co/IAVBE4VOHU— TheDaddy (@Joel_Schaffer) March 6, 2017
And even though Obama would have a lot of fault to prove, legal experts and politicians are beginning to believe that Donald Trump may have crossed a provable legal line with his tweets about the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower.
An Obama spokesman has flat-out denied Trump’s claims. James Clapper, the former National Intelligence Director, has also gone on the record to insist that the wiretapping never happened.
What’s more, NBC News reports that Trump didn’t even consult his own team before slamming Obama on Twitter.
“[Trump] did not consult with the people inside the U.S. government who might know before making this claim.”
Donald Trump has demanded an investigation into his own illegal wiretapping claims against former President Obama, but that demand didn’t come until Sunday, a day after the allegations had already gone viral.
“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.”
It is highly unlikely that President Obama would take the extraordinary step of suing Trump for libel over the wiretapping claims, but this has become an extraordinary transition of presidential power where anything is seemingly possible.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]