So I saw this morning that Donald Trump (US president) claimed the US would be at war with North Korea by now if he hadn't been elected.

This made me wonder if there are any restrictions on what a politician can make or whether this is all down to public opinion (the public pointing out that tensions have been going on for decades or that Donald Trump was originally escalating things rather than calming them down).

Can a politician make any claim and the onus is on their opposition to prove them wrong?

(I'm more interested in the west but if this or 'politician' is too broad then answer specifically on the US president)

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    You're looking for restrictions on politicians that don't apply to "regular citizens", correct?
    – Geobits
    Feb 6, 2019 at 14:24
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    @LioElbammalf no one (including the POTUS) is allowed to incite a riot, slander someone, falsely advertise, etc. Beyond that, one can claim that one is the Queen of France if one so desires. Claims unless made in very special circumstances are caveat emptor. Feb 6, 2019 at 15:26
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    Another point to consider - whether or not any responsibility falls upon the platform on which his message is carried - ethically, legally, and corporate....ly.
    – Zibbobz
    Feb 6, 2019 at 16:49
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    "...Donald Trump was originally escalating things rather than calming them down." This is entirely your opinion. It also happens to be wrong.
    – Wildcard
    Feb 6, 2019 at 17:42
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    @wildcard Sure it's my opinion - he was sending public twitter messages insulting and threatening the north Koreans...were they meant to calm the situation down? In my opinion no and in yours (it seems) yes. Both are opinion, however so you can't call me out for opinion and state your own as fact Feb 6, 2019 at 22:55

5 Answers 5


You are partly right:

  • A politician can make almost any claim, unless libel laws apply.
  • There is no onus on the opposition to prove him wrong because a politician has no right to be believed by the public. The opposition would only try to prove him wrong if there are people left who believe the lying politician.

Most lies will be judged in the "court of public opinion" and not in a court of law. Especially if it comes to hypotheticals -- who knows if a different President would have more or less success with North Korea? One could well argue that previous Western diplomacy was not well suited to deal with DPRK brinkmanship, and that it took another brinkman to bring them to a test stop.

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    Many legislatures also have some form of parlimentary privilege, so for instance in the UK an MP can commit libel and ignore injunctions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_immunity huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/… Feb 6, 2019 at 16:16
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    @PaulJohnson: there's an important condition attached, though: "...for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties". So, for example, an MP can't be sued for libel for anything they might say during proceedings in the Commons; but they could be sued for libel for saying the same thing on Twitter. Feb 6, 2019 at 17:39
  • @SteveMelnikoff I believe but do not have links to prove that POTUS has privilege that is almost without qualification. S/he can libel freely without worry about litigation. Trump sure does abuse this privilege.
    – emory
    Feb 9, 2019 at 3:44
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    @emory Public speech just has fewer restrictions in the US than the UK. Any private US citizen can make a general claim about any subject with any amount of evidence and not face penalties, regardless of the veracity of the statement or their belief about its veracity. Libel would only come into play if there was a false claim made about a person or entity, which caused actual, cognizable damage to them, and did not meet the particular jurisdiction's allowable defenses against a defamation claim. The President's claims on Twitter, even about a person, likely will never rise to this level. Feb 9, 2019 at 19:00

The US President can tell lies with impunity - except where to do so would be a criminal offence.

See Nixon vs Fitzgerald.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President is entitled to absolute immunity from liability for civil damages based on his official acts. The court emphasized that the President is not immune from criminal charges stemming from his official (or unofficial) acts while in office.


The court observed that the President was subjected to constant scrutiny by the press. It noted that vigilant oversight by Congress would also serve to deter presidential abuses of office, as well as to make credible the threat of impeachment. The court determined that other incentives to avoid misconduct existed, including a desire to earn reelection, the need to maintain prestige as an element of presidential influence, and a President's traditional concern for his historical stature.

Whether the current situation supports the courts determination is moot.

  • It would be interesting to see if increases in partisanship of politics and the press would change a court's position on this issue today,
    – Jontia
    Feb 7, 2019 at 16:40

Anyone - including the President - can tell almost any lie that s/he feels like with impunity. This is guaranteed to us by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Some exceptions:

  • The President - unlike the rest of us - can tell almost any libelous lie s/he feels like without consequence.
  • The President - unlike the rest of us - can be held to account by an impeachment/conviction process. S/he can be impeached/convicted for anything the Congress feels like. If the spirit moves them they could impeach/convict him for telling a white lie, a big lie, a libelous lie, a vicious lie, or a plain whopper.

To speak of Canada specifically, our federal politicians operate under the Rules of Order and Decorum while sitting in Parliament, and there's a goodly number of things they're not supposed to do. The ones that seem to come up the most often are:

  • "It is unacceptable to allude to the presence or absence of a Member or Minister in the Chamber." They're not allowed to point out that no one has seen the Honourable Member at work for the last six months.

  • "Remarks directed specifically at another Member which question that Member’s integrity, honesty or character are not in order. A Member will be requested to withdraw offensive remarks, allegations, or accusations of impropriety directed towards another Member." They're not allowed to just flat-out call one of their coworkers a liar.

  • "Members are discouraged from referring by name to persons who are not Members of Parliament and who do not enjoy parliamentary immunity, except in extraordinary circumstances when the national interest calls for the naming of an individual." This sometimes makes the debates pretty oblique.

  • "Personal attacks, insults and obscene language or words are not in order." Notably, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once claimed that he had actually said 'fuddle duddle' and not some other word that may have started with 'fu-'.

Outside of parliament, though, they're mostly just regular citizens.


The California Constitution contains provisions in Articl 7, Section 10, allowing a court to void the election of a State politician if they got elected by defaming their opponent(s).

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