Trump has yet again accused on of his critics of a serious crime – and again the allegation evaporated within hours. The number of accusations made by the sitting president is shocking, but what’s more, considering the weight they carry, they may set Trump up to face a series of libel lawsuits. The defendants are a who’s who of people who have gotten in Trumps way. He accused Hillary of a series of unsubstantiated, often-vague crimes. He smeared Loretta Lynch. He falsely stated that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. He’s slandered James Comey, the man he inappropriately fired for investigating him, on several occasions – all from the platform of his White House-backed Twitter account.
After watching a badly-botched Fox and Friends report on the memos Comey wrote, Trump went onto Twitter to accuse Comey of a crime rather than learn the facts.
James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
Had he done any research, he would have seen that Fox’s story was riddled with errors and no serious news organization would have ever run it. Instead, this happened:
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 10, 2017
Within hours, Comey’s friend and the source of the Comey memos proving Trump lied about his conversations with the FBI director, had publicly stated that what Trump was saying was a complete fantasy. Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman told NBC that nothing he received from Comey was classified, the things he passed along to the press were written accounts of what Comey chatted with Trump about, which is completely legal.
No evidence has surfaced supporting that charge. Three of the memos were classified from the beginning, and were never shared with Richman, the professor tells NBC News.
Of the remaining four, a small portion — much less than half — has been retroactively deemed classified, said a Congressional source familiar with the matter.
What Trump did was take a misleading section of a story, blow it up into something it wasn’t and then publicly accuse a former civil servant of committing a serious crime. All based on a botched news report on Fox’s morning show.
And his words have consequences.
In a recent example, Trump sicced his loyalists on reporters for exposing his scandals, members of the media have noted a serious uptick in the number of death threats and slurs hurled at them. After CNN exposed the anti-Semite behind the meme Trump tweeted, Trump fans announced that they would be gathering in front of the reporter’s home. Another reporter received even more disturbing threats.
In the wake of that, I received numerous threats. I was told people wanted to shoot, strangle me, hang me, throw me out of a helicopter 3/
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) July 3, 2017
All of this pushes Trump into dangerous legal territory. It’s easy to prove that when Trump falsely smears a person, that person suffers tangible losses to safety, reputation, and finance. A single tweet from Trump can mean your family receives death threats. Others will call for you to be fired or demand you resign. And you will now be known as a person accused by the president of the United States of a crime. Even if Trump only wants to use it as a weapon against his enemies and doesn’t take it seriously, it still has costs to the victims.
Trump should face libel lawsuits. Lots of them.
Featured image via Ukas Michael – Pool/Getty Images