Can the 'commander in tweet' be sued for defamation?
If Donald Trump said, "So what, sue me!" to his haters, is that even possible? Is Trump legally responsible for what he writes on Twitter?
Average citizen Donald Trump tweeted some doozies that left many scratching their heads. At times President Trump’s tweets are inflammatory, but can POTUS be sued for what he says on Twitter?
“The president is ...not above the civil law and he is not above the criminal law,” Alan Sash, an attorney with the law offices of McLaughlin & Stern, said, but the chances someone can win a defamation case against Trump are slim.
This week, Trump’s private attorneysasserted that he should be immune from a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a former contestant on the NBC show "The Apprentice" because of his presidential duties.
“Ironically [the attorneys] are pulling from the First Amendment —that the president has the right to say what is on his mind without fear of lawsuits,” Sash continued.
The president doesn’t have constitutional immunity from defamation, butTrump, just like any average Tom, Don and Harry cannot be sued for tweeting his opinion.
.@ariannahuff is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2012
“It makes no difference that he’s president and I think that’s fogging up the analysis here,” Sash told Metro.
If Trump drives his car into yours, you can sue him for negligence, but if he calls someone a liar, perhaps a woman accusing him of sexual assault or a newspaper that printed something he didn't like, that would fall under opinion or hyperbole.
For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
Accusing former President Obama of wiretapping during the 2016 election is a serious allegation, Sash said, but Trump could always claim it was hyperbole: "I didn’t give specifics," he could argue. "Obamawiretapped Trump Tower. I live in Trump Tower. Close enough."
“If I stumbled out of a bar and I started saying Obama is wiretapping me, people will think I’m a nutjob, but when the president says it, it has some weight,” Sash explained. “But if he heard it from someone (like Fox News) he is then sourcing it and that doesn’t make it a statement.
“He is just spreading false rumors.”
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
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
Proving libel or slander against a public person is an uphill battle, Sash said, but if Trump were to accuse a private person of a crime, there might be trouble.
And what about Trump’s tweets against Nordstrom after the retailer dumped Ivanka’s fashion label?
“That’s life,” Sash said. People are allowed to vote with their pocketbooks and it isn’t illegal for a president to act “unpresidential,” he added.
Sash said he would warn any elected official to be careful trying to explain any topic in 140 characters or a few sentences on Facebook.
“It’s out of context and whether its defamation or not, it’s great to communicate with people, but with issues that can’t be boiled down to 140 characters, it’s best to leave it for a medium where you can explain yourself in full.”