Is there any punishment for POTUS lying to the people? Are there any departments or groups of people who are monitoring the president so that he cannot lie whenever he wants?

I am aware of the existence of the ethics office but I've never seen any actions from them.

  • 8
    The punishment, hopefully, is that he doesn't get re-elected. Beyond that congress would have to decide to impeach.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 22:42
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    does congress count as a big enough group of people?
    – dalearn
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 0:47
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    If he lies under oath (perjury) like Bill Clinton, he can be impeached. If he lies in general, like Bill Clinton, comedians will make fun of him.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:08
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    ...but if he keeps lying like Donald Trump...we'll have to see. It's rather unprecedented in the lying category.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 4:53
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    @user4012: For a more recent "Okay, yeah, POTUSed lied to us" compare the reaction of Obama at "White House Correspondent's Dinner" when Seth Meyers brought up how the US couldn't find Osama bin Laden verses his plans for the next day's activity.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 15:00

7 Answers 7


Lying is not a crime. You and I can lie all the time. If I tell you my name is Will and your name is David there is no punishment for that. Lying is part of free speech and even the President is protected by that.

Pretty much every president has lied at some point. If you pick any particular claim you will probably find debate about whether its a lie or not, but I bet you I could even find a lie that 'honest Abe' told.

The exception here is lying under oath, which can have penalties. From US Code - Section 1621

... be fined under this title or imprisoned not more five years, or both.

  • 3
    "Lying is not a crime" i find that very hard to agree with. Defamation is a type of lie and it's against law. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 22:24
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    @Will true, some specific forms of lies can be punishable. Same with yelling fire in a crowded theater. But your question was about general lies, and a general lie is not punishable by law. POTUS gets the same speech protections as the rest of us Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 22:30
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    @MoziburUllah He was under oath. Impeachment is not inherently a punishment for lying, it is a punishment for failure to to perform the duties of office. There is no special presidential context. Also this wasn't a legal proceeding, there is no precedence set. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 23:32
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    I wasn't claiming that impeachment is essentially a punishment for lying; that's your strawman that you knocked down; what was the duty of office that Nixon failed to carry out that got him impeached? Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:14
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    @MoziburUllah No, Nixon was not impeached for anything. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only U.S. Presidents to ever have been impeached and neither was ultimately removed from office. Nixon resigned, though he likely would have been impeached if he hadn't.
    – reirab
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 5:11

US Presidents can't be criminally prosecuted, and the biggest punishment that applies to him/her is impeachment. A President could be impeached by a majority in the House, and the Senate tries the impeachment with the Chief Justice presiding. If 2/3 of the Senators vote to remove the President, he would be removed from office.

The United States Constitution says:

The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors

However, it doesn't say what constitutes High Crimes and Misdemeanors. If Congress decides so, being drunk or trespassing into someone's garden could constitute a High Crime and/or Misdemeanor. Baseline: it largely depends on Congress.

Lying is usually not a crime and can't get one prosecuted (unless it's under oath). Even if it constitutes a criminal offense, the President could not be prosecuted. It could, however, get a President impeached, and removed from office that way. After the President's removal he/she loses immunity and could be prosecuted and tried for felony.

However, if the House decides not to impeach the President, or if the Senate decides to acquit the President, nothing happens besides that he/she might not get reelected.

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    Re "US Presidents can't be criminally prosecuted": please provide a source for this.
    – agc
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:44
  • High Crimes and Misdemeanors actually has a meaning, Congress can't just decide what it means. It basically covers a range of actions that a government official shouldn't do but aren't necessarily crimes.
    – JonK
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 17:44
  • @agc Well, Clinton v. Jones establishes that a president is subject to civil lawsuits for acts committed before taking office or acts committed during office but not related to his duties. I don't think the ruling covers criminal prosecution, nor do rulings concerning Watergate. I think the common opinion is that he has immunity to criminal prosecution while in office, but that's far from unanimous or decided in the courts. Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 18:36
  • -1 Presidents most certainly can be criminally prosecuted and Nixon likely would have been, had he not been pardoned by Ford. "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law." - Article I, Section 3, Paragraph 7.
    – reirab
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 5:14
  • There is a DOJ policy that prevents them from bringing charges against the president but there is no policy that I am aware of that prevents states from bringing charges. Also the DOJ policy has never been tested in court so it could be possible for charges to be brought up and the courts to allow them to move forward.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 22:15

Well there is the press, the Washington Post from what I'm told did a good job of unpacking his lies, which is why he accuses them of being 'fake news', 'fake media' and 'an enemy of the people'.

To legally 'punish' someone (including the President), one must try them first for some indictable crime and he/she must be convicted; now, according to Article 1.2 of the Constitution it is only the Senate that has the power to do this, and in fact clause 1.4 states:

The President, the Vice-President and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours

Note the term 'high crime'; this means that the trial is outside the ordinary judicial arrangements; and in fact formal charges would be brought by the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives, and the trial itself is held by the Senate itself - that is the jury is the Senate (the Supreme Court is only involved in upholding due process).

Now, you ask whether:

the President can be punished for lying to the people

You aren't (obviously) asking for lying in a general sense but 'lying to the people'; and nor are you (obviously, again) asking for Trump to be considered in his own person as a citizen, but as a holder of an office - the office of the Presidency, for you say POTUS and not Mr Trump.

Now what does it mean for the President to lie to the People? It's a phrase that one might find in a literary work, say a political drama or perhaps in an actual political speech; in that context it's usually understood as generally signalling a high crime.

So, in this sense and with this qualifier, then yes.

It's worth noting that President Nixon who resigned rather than be impeached had ordered an illegal wiretap on a political party and then lied about it (he was accused of a 'coverup'), here lying was part of the crime; also had it gone to the House Judiciary Committee, who would have drawn up the formal charge sheet (the Articles of Impeachment) it could well have been likely that one of the formal charges would be the 'coverup' itself.

Hence, in this particular sense too.

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    Nixon's case did go to the House Judiciary Committee and articles of impeachment were drawn up. He resigned before they passed the full House, but not before they passed committee.
    – cpast
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 16:50
  • Impeachment need not be based on an indictable crime.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 19:21

Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code: The statute spells out this purpose in subsection 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a), which states:

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—

  1. falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device[ , ] a material fact;
  2. makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
  3. makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, …
Wikipedia: Making false statements.

So, for example, with regard to the current news cycle, if a person intentionally makes a false accusation to the FBI, Congress, or a federal court, they can be charged and convicted. This could be the POTUS or someone acting on their behalf.


Federal Statute criminalizing lying is 18 U.S.C. sec. 1001, makes it a crime to knowingly and willfully make any materially false, fictious or fraudulent statement or representation in the course of any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the federal government. There is no requirement that the statement be under oath. Material - predictably capable of affecting (an) official decision. Extra: With holding , falsifying or misrepresentation of information is subject to the penalties for inaccurate or false statement per U.S. Criminal Code Title 18 sec 1001. 18 U.S.C. sec. 371 makes it a criminal offense to agree to lie 18 U.S.C. sec. 1502 makes it a crime to lie to a witness in an attempt to induce that witness to lie before congress or judicial hearing.

Who ever engages in any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information under circumstances where such information may reasonably be believed and where such information indicates that an activity has taken place , is taking place or will take place is in violation of chapter. 2,10, 11b, 39, 40, 44, 111, 113b section 236 of 42 U.S.C. 2284, sec. 46502, 2nd sentence of section 46504. in other words yes lying is a crime but proving it is another story. Congress needs to ask very precise questions and demand precise answers to be able to prove something is a lie even if it seems so obvious.


Do note: An election is nothing more than a hiring process, just like most of us went through to obtain our jobs.

  • An opening is realized
  • Such opening is brought before the country
  • Applicants put before the county their bona fides, their hiring committee (the voting public) then chooses among the applicants to hire into the job.

An 'elected official' is merely an employee, a HIRED HAND if you will. Should we consider a process by the public wherein the public directly FIRES its HIRED HAND?


Is there any punishment for POTUS lying to the people?

there can be - see what happened to nixon.

but there may not be, or may not always be - see what happened to "you can keep your doctors, ...".

and then there is this gray area where it is hard to say if a person lied - see "I didn't have sex with that woman".

so the answer to your question is a resounding "yes" and "no".

  • 9
    Nixon wasn't punished for lying. In fact, he wasn't punished at all, because he resigned voluntarily and then received a presidential pardon by his successor for everything he has done. What he was accused of wasn't "lying" either. It was illegal surveillance of political opponents and breaking into the DNCs office.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 12:16
  • @Philipp and even that he could probably not be punished for, as it was done by his people, not by himself, and they'd have a hard time proving he himself ordered or condoned to it. Nixon decided to do the right thing and take responsibility for the illegal activity of his employees, and decided to resign.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 9:51
  • @jwenting Nixon resigned because he was facing impeachment, not because of some high-minded sense of responsibility for his subordinates' actions. One thing his oval office recordings make clear is that he had no scruples whatsoever about playing dirty.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 19:31

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