News & Politics

Can James Comey Sue Trump For Defamation?

The President publicly accused the former FBI director of committing a crime. So we asked a lawyer

Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Donald Trump fired up Twitter this morning to attack former FBI director James Comey, whose new book seems to have the President in a bit of a mood. Trump wrote:

About that part where Trump says Comey lied under oath, i.e. where he accused him of committing a federal crime? Typically, that’s the kind of thing for which you could sue. But attorney Thomas Clare—who specializes in representing clients who’ve been defamed—says it’s not so easy to make a claim in this case. “The short takeaway is what might be actionable for you or for me, if we were to be confronted by this in our professional life, is much more complicated here,” he says.

That’s because there’s a law that protects government officials: “There is a federal statute called the Westfall Act that provides broad immunity to federal officials—including elected officials—who make statements, protecting them from defamation liability,” Clare says. “If [Comey] were to bring such a claim, I think he would find himself litigating against the Department of Justice, and against the backdrop of this federal statute. It would be a huge mess.”

Well, now we know. Guess that means Comey is free to focus his full attention on the book tour.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.