Lawyer: Obama Could Sue Trump over Wiretap Claim

Barack Obama in 2011

George W. Bush’s ex-ethics lawyer claims former president Obama is very likely to win a defamation lawsuit if he decides to file charges against Trump over his wiretapping allegations. Richard W Painter recently tweeted that the feud between the two politicians “looks like a very good libel case” and Obama could win despite tight regulations concerning libel against public officials.

Trump Promised to Change Libel Laws

On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to change libel laws to allow the American public easily file suits against people who make false or defamatory statements about them.

In Europe, the defendant would have to prove that the statements are true, while the plaintiff will only have to prove that the claims damaged his reputation, without having to show the severity of the damage.

In the United States, plaintiffs must prove the statements are false and that the defendant made those statements with ill intent. In other words, Obama must prove that Trump knew the claims were false or simply released the information with total disregard for the truth.

Painter is now suing the president for allegedly violating the Constitution. He claims Obama has a strong case against his successor and he should proceed with the suit.

Trump, on the other hand, declined to retract the defamatory claims even after two congressional committees and the FBI director James Comey found no evidence to back those allegations. Trump still thinks Obama ordered an illegal surveillance of Trump Tower during the presidential campaign last year.

The president has yet to produce any evidence to support his claims, which Obama’s office described as “simply false”. The US intelligence community dismissed the allegations as well. Obama did not threaten Trump with a lawsuit, and he is very unlikely to go to court. However, lawsuits against U.S. presidents are not unusual.

Other U.S. Presidents Were Sued

In the early ‘70s, FG Fitzgerald sued Richard Nixon for ousting him from his position as U.S. air force analyst. In the end, a federal court ruled presidents should have “absolute immunity” in the face of civil actions because their “unique position” makes them more likely to get involved in such lawsuits. Under this decision, Obama may find it challenging to sue Trump.

Nonetheless, he could still sue the billionaire over personal matters, which happened in 1997 when Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. Clinton settled the matter by paying Jones $850,000 even though the court dismissed the suit.

Last year, Trump said at a campaign stop in Forth Worth, TX, that he would “open up” libel laws to allow the public sue people who make “purposely negative and false” claims about them and “win lots of money”. He also said the revamped laws would allow him to sue the “dishonest media” when they say false things about him. Trump noted that current libel laws “totally” protect journalists against such legal actions.

In February, a report showed that Trump was sued over 50 times in just two weeks after assuming office. The cases revolved around various topics from business issues to executive actions on immigration. Painter sued Trump for failing to sell off some assets and put other assets in a blind trust.
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