In this hypothetical (unless it's happened in the past), a prominent citizen or news agency makes statements about the president, or his decisions or policies, that are knowingly inaccurate or false while he is in office. In the opinion of the president and his counsel in this hypothetical, these false statements harm his reputation or otherwise cause damages to him or his administration.

Given that there are always people who openly criticize a president's decisions, to varying degrees of accuracy or hyperbole, would the president ever have the option of bringing charges against said person(s), this situation?

Are there laws specific to the executive branch in this case, or for government officers in general?

Note: I'm not referring to any president in particular, and don't wish for this to become a political debate.

  • My understanding is that government officials can't sue private citizens for criticizing their performance of official duties.Only, possibly, about their personal lives.
    – Libra
    Jun 24, 2017 at 22:23
  • 1
    More generally, nobody can sue anybody for criticizing their actions. At least, not in the US. Anybody can sue for a defamatory (necessarily false) statement, and there are no laws preventing government officials from exercising their legal rights.
    – user6726
    Jun 24, 2017 at 23:42
  • @Libra, If I say "Joe Pol takes bribes" that is criticizing his actions, but it could be the cause of a defamation suit. Disputing the wisdom of a policy choice, even in strong terms, is not going to be defamation. May 1, 2021 at 13:44
  • @DavidSiegel: "Taking bribes" is an issue "about the pol's personal life," not his "performance of official duties."
    – Libra
    May 1, 2021 at 16:06
  • @Libra I would think of taking bribes for official actions as part of the performance of official duties. Bribery statutes so regard it. A false claim of malfeasance in office, or say racial bias in official actions coulf be grounds for a defamation suit, but I would call each of those part of the "performance of official duties." . Disagreement with policy decisions is not a basis for a defamation claim. May 1, 2021 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


Defamation is a suit that can be brought by anyone, however, there are extra hurdles if the plaintiff is an official. Following New York Times Co v Sullivan, the plaintiff must prove actual malice: that the defendant knew the information was untrue or acted with reckless disregard for its truth.

  • 3
    This answer is absolutely correct on the law. But is spite of many heated disputes over the time since the US Constitution was adopted and Washington was elected the first President, as far as I can determine, no sitting President has ever sued for defamation. This may well be because such suits often tend to repeat the defamatory statement over and over, and no President has ever judged it wise to engage in such a suit. Indeed I have not found any case of a sitting US President who has ever sued anyone for any personal tort. Aug 23, 2019 at 20:50
  • but could said president also be libel proof?
    – Trish
    Jul 23, 2020 at 23:28

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