Current Events

Rumor Mill: Obama Indicted by Federal Court?

Rumor Mill: Obama Indicted by Federal Court?
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Social media lit up in January 2013 with “news” that President Obama has been indicted by a federal court. We’ll take a look at this rumor and the possibility that it may or may not be real.

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It is a hoax.

The rumor began on January 25, with a video of political activist Lyndon Larouche stating that he had seen a report containing “indictments” against President Obama.

He began by saying, “I never have seen in my life such a parade of implicit indictments of a President of the United States.” He later stated that he would not comment on the details of the report, but that it came as a “blessing.”

“This is probably the greatest indictment of an incumbent President of the United States that I’ve ever heard,” Larouche continued. “Such a counter to the President’s behavior has been stated public by a Federal Court.”

Can a Sitting President be Indicted?

Larouche’s comments begs the question of whether a sitting President can even be indicted. The Department of Justice has addressed this question on two occasions, first in 1973 in the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandal, and again in 2000 following the Clinton-Lewinsky saga. Their report dated October 16, 2000 summarizes this question the following manner:

In 1973, the Department concluded that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. We have been asked to summarize and review the analysis provided in support of that conclusion, and to consider whether any subsequent developments in the law lead us today to reconsider and modify or disavow that determination. We believe that the conclusion reached by the Department in 1973 still represents the best interpretation of the Constitution.

Citizen’s Grand Jury

There is a “citizen’s grand jury” which has “charges” levied against the President. A “citizen’s grand jury” however has no legal authority or power. In this case, it is constructed from private citizens who wish to make a political statement. Anyone can form such a “jury” and charge whomever they wish.

Weekly World News

Supermarket tabloid Weekly World News ran a story which added fuel to the Obama story.  Their article begins, “On Monday March 11, 2013, Congress is reportedly beginning impeachment proceedings against Barack Obama.” This, of course, is the same tabloid that has published the infamous bat-boy photo, and had photos of world leaders on vacation with aliens. Hardly a reputable news source, yet this article is being passed around social media without citing the source from which it came.

Impeachment Hearings?

A similar news item which circulated in 2013 stated that House Republicans scheduled impeachment hearings against President Obama. That story was false.

It was published by the Daily Currant, a website which publishes satirical, fictional stories. The article has been heavily shared by many who aren’t aware of the fictional nature of the Daily Currant, perhaps due to the serious tone of the story:

Republicans in the House of Representatives have scheduled impeachment proceedings against President Obama, claiming his inability to halt the federal government shutdown makes him unfit for office.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann introduced a resolution to impeach Obama this morning and referred the matter to the House Judiciary Committee. Senior aides close to judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte say hearings will begin Thursday.

A glance at the “About” section of The Daily Currant reveals the nature of its content:

The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media. It is accessible from over 190 countries worldwide – now including South Sudan.

Our mission is to ridicule the timid ignorance which obstructs our progress, and promote intelligence – which presses forward.

Q. Are your news stories real?

A. No. Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.

Bottom Line

The rumor lacks details or corroboration by major news sources, Federal Courts, Eric Holder’s office, or any other official entity. And over a year after this article was originally posted, there are still no charges to be seen.

House Republicans also did not announced impeachment hearings against President Obama in late 2013. The website from which this claim originated publishes fictional, satirical stories.

Updated January 2016

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