Since Donald Trump accused Obama of wiretapping him during the election campaign, media analysts and constitutional experts have been debating whether Trump’s accusation, if found to be false, could meet the legal definition of a libel or otherwise qualify as an impeachable offense.
Harvard Law professor and constitutional expert Laurence Tribe recently threw cold water on suggestions that if Trump’s wiretapping accusation is found to be false, it could make him liable under defamation law. According to Tribe, Trump, as president, could be immune to libel laws.
Tribe cited Nixon vs. Fitzgerald as providing a precedent that Trump could “arguably [be] immune from liability” in a libel claim, according to Palmer Report.
But after noting that it is very unlikely that Obama would sue Trump for libel, Tribe went on to argue that Trump could be impeached if he is found to have falsely accused Obama of personally ordering surveillance of his phones during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Tribe pointed out on Tuesday that President Donald Trump could face impeachment if he is found to have acted with reckless disregard for truth and used his office to accuse his predecessor of an impeachable felony while ascribing the alleged information to a security briefing.
1/Using his office to accuse the prior POTUS of an impeachable felony in reckless disregard of truth while implying security briefings— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) March 7, 2017
2/gave him unique access to evidence confirming that accusation is a high crime that could properly form an Article of Impeachment.— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) March 7, 2017
“Trump’s accusation of lawless wiretap by Obama, unlike the racist claims he made as a private citizen about Obama’s birth, was made as POTUS, with strong suggestion he had ‘just learned’ in that capacity [as president] about Obama’s alleged crime,” Tribe said.
“[It is a] grave abuse of power of presidency to slander a private citizen as well as a former president.”
“[It an abuse] I’d classify as a high crime against the nation and one of its most distinguished citizens.”
But Tribe admitted that it is unlikely that Trump would be impeached in the current circumstances where the House and Senate are under GOP control. An impeachment hearing can only be initiated at the sole discretion of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“Given GOP control of both House and Senate, talk of Impeachment & removal from office seems premature, but this is one big straw atop an already weakened camel’s back,” Tribe said.
But Palmer Report argued that with the continued decline in Donald Trump’s approval rating, GOP members of Congress could decide to move to impeach Trump if they believe it would improve their chances in the upcoming midterm elections.
However, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday, George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley argued that Trump could not be impeached for making false claims about the former president because he made the comments on Twitter, a medium that did not exist at the time that the Constitution’s impeachment clause was drafted.
“There’s no penalty to the president for bad tweets,” Turley said.
“[Twitter] post-dated the [U.S. Constitution’s] impeachment clause. So, there’s no impeachment for bad tweets.”
Turley effectively argued that Trump could not face impeachment over his “wiretapping tweets” because Twitter was not around at the time the impeachment clause was drafted.
Tribe disagreed with Turley on Twitter, criticizing his “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution.
He responded to Turley in a series of tweets.
“On @JoeNBC @JonathanTurley says Trump’s false claim that [Obama] wiretapped him cdn’t be impeachable because #Twitter didn’t exist when the Impeachment Cl. was written in 1787. What’s he mocking? Stupid versions of originalism? The gravity of T’s abuse of power? POTUS himself? Using power of WH to falsely accuse predecessor of impeachable felony does qualify as an impeachable offense whether via tweet or not.”
2/Impeachment Cl. was written in 1787. What's he mocking? Stupid versions of originalism? The gravity of T's abuse of power? POTUS himself?— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) March 7, 2017
3/Using power of WH to falsely accuse predecessor of impeachable felony does qualify as an impeachable offense whether via tweet or not— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) March 7, 2017
Tribe has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and has accused him of repeatedly violating the Constitution since he came to office. He has also claimed that Trump is not mentally fit to be president and argued that there are grounds for his impeachment.
[Featured Image by Kamenko Pajik/AP Images]