Home » How can Trump still run for president as he heads to trial with four criminal indictments?

How can Trump still run for president as he heads to trial with four criminal indictments?

by John Jefferson
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Donald Trump is the subject of four criminal indictments at a time when he is hot on the trail of another stint in the White House, having all but officially secured the Republican presidential nomination with ease despite the myriad legal problems he faces.

The 45th president stormed well ahead of his nearest rivals Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis in every poll during the primary season from the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, delivering him victories across the board. This set him on course for a rematch with Joe Biden as he sets his sights on becoming the first candidate to regain the White House since Grover Cleveland more than a century ago.

All of this comes against a backdrop of legal chaos, with the Republican indicted for falsifying his business records in New York, withholding classified government documents in Florida, and attempting to overturn the 2020 election in two separate cases in Washington DC and Fulton County, Georgia.

The former commander-in-chief — already the first to be impeached twice in American history during the rolling mayhem of his single-term presidency of 2017 to 2021 — is also battling other civil lawsuits relating to his business practices and personal history and has denied all possible charges against him. He is arguing that, in any case, a president should be granted absolute immunity from prosecution to enable them to go about their duties and make difficult decisions in the Oval Office without fear of subsequent legal reprisals.

As if that were not enough, his hard-pressed legal team also successfully contested in the Supreme Court the decision by the states of Colorado and e to remove him from their ballot papers in apparent agreement with Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which stipulates that anyone who has sworn an oath of office and then violated it by “engaging in insurrection” cannot run again. This was an explicit rebuke to Mr Trump over his role in stoking the deadly riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

And yet, despite all of the above, conservative voters appear to be unmoved by Mr Trump’s notoriety and entirely persuaded by his baseless “political persecution” narrative, which he has gleefully used to fundraise for his campaign, even selling trashy digital trading cards featuring his Fulton County mugshot.

The candidate has insisted he will re in the race for the White House regardless of the outcomes of the criminal cases against him, but with potential convictions and judgements in both federal and state indictments, and possible multi-million dollar lawsuits to fight in tandem with campaigning, does he really have a political future?

What are the four indictments about?

Mr Trump’s troubles began in earnest in April 2023, when he became the first-ever former or current president to face criminal charges when a New York City grand jury voted to indict him over hush money payments allegedly made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 presidential election.

He pleaded not guilty in that case to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in order to conceal an alleged scheme to illegally influence the national vote by suppressing negative stories about him.

His second indictment of the year followed in June, when Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith handed down federal charges against Mr Trump and an aide, Walt Nauta, with 37 counts related to the unlawful retention of classified documents post-presidency and obstruction of justice. A second Trump employee, Carlos De Oliveira, was later also accused of playing a role in the alleged cover-up.

Those charges stem from an investigation that began in 2022 when officials from the National Archives and Records Administration discovered more than 100 classified documents in boxes that were retrieved from Mr Trump’s private residence Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan court in April 2023 (AP)

Mr Trump’s third indictment, again courtesy of Mr Smith, occurred in August and pertained to the 2020 election and his alleged role in instigating the Capitol riot.

The former president was then indicted for a fourth time in Georgia on 14 August, this time charged by Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis with 13 counts related to an alleged conspiracy to alter the election result in the swing state in the days that followed his defeat to President Biden.

He was charged alongside 18 other defendants, including Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows and Sidney Powell, in an indictment containing a total of 41 counts related to racketeering.

In addition, he had to fight a civil lawsuit from New York attorney general Letitia James, whose investigation revealed “years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth [in order] to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York” and secure favourable loans on behalf of The Trump Organization. Judge Arthur Engoron ruled in favour of the state and Mr Trump is appealing the $464m ruling against him.

Mr Trump was further found liable for the sexual abuse and defamation of Elle magazine columnist E Jean Carroll by a Manhattan civil jury early last year.

Ms Carroll, 80, sued the former president for assaulting her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the 1990s and then “destroying” her reputation when he accused her of lying about the encounter, claiming that she was not his “type”.

So can he still run for president?

There are no explicit restrictions in the US Constitution to prevent anyone under indictment or convicted of a crime – or even currently serving prison time, for that matter – from running for or winning the presidency.

That said, the aforementioned clause contained within the 14th Amendment was enough to convince the Colorado Supreme Court and e’s secretary of state Shenna Bellows that Mr Trump should be barred from the election race in their states over his part in inciting the Capitol riot, at which he urged his Maga base to “fight like hell” moments before they stormed Congress.

However, as mentioned before, Mr Trump successfully appealed both of those decisions, and the matter ended up in the US Supreme Court, where a conservative-majority presides, not least thanks to the Republican himself, who nominated three of the justices currently occupying its benches. The justices ignored whether or not Mr Trump had engaged in an insurrection but determined unanimously that only Congress and not the states can disqualify a candidate for federal office.

Looking at his calendar for the coming year, the former luxury real estate mogul faces a string of trial dates coinciding with the 2024 election that threatens to massively complicate his campaigning schedule.

The first trial the former president will face — a historic first — is for the Stormy Daniels hush money case which begins jury selection on 15 April in Manhattan.

Judge Tanya Chutkan originally set aside 4 March for the commencement of his federal election interference trial in Washington but an appeal on presidential immunity to the Supreme Court set for 25 April has paused any movement on that case.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Judge Aileen Cannon originally chose 20 May as the start date for the classified documents trial but series of delays has pushed that back, with prosecutors asking for a start date of 8 July and the defence suggesting 12 August.

Finally, in Fulton County, Judge Scott McAfee picked a provisional trial date of 5 August to open the Georgia 2020 election interference case, but that has not been confirmed. Having survived an attempt to remove her from the case, DA Willis has indicated she is keen to get moving.

Even if Mr Trump were to be tried and convicted in one of these so-called “speedy trials”, he could still run the entirety of his presidential campaign from a prison cell.

What is far less clear is what would happen if he were to win in that scenario.

Trump’s booking mugshot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in August 2023 (Reuters)

Just as there are no restrictions in the Constitution on a person running while under indictment, there is no explanation for what should occur if they win.

There is nothing in the founding document that would automatically grant Mr Trump a reprieve from prison time.

However, if he assumed the presidency while federal charges were still being litigated, they would likely be dropped due to the Justice Department’s refusal to prosecute a sitting president.

While Mr Trump has already been found liable for the historic sexual assault on Ms Carroll, he did not face any jail time because the finding arose from a civil trial.

State-level charges like the ones filed by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg or Ms Willis in Georgia are far trickier and would fall outside of any prospective presidential pardoning power were they to result in a conviction.

If he were to be convicted on state charges and win the 2024 vote, it would likely lead to a massive legal fight to determine whether there was a way for the former president to worm his way out of serving time.

If Mr Trump was unable to avoid that outcome, it would almost certainly lead to his impeachment (for a historic third time) or removal via the 25th Amendment.

There are many duties and trappings of the presidency that he would simply be unable to fulfil from a prison cell, the viewing of classified materials, to name just one.

Any potential conviction for Mr Trump is still a long way off and perhaps little more than a distant possibility.

But the conversations he has started with his bid for the presidency under such troubled circumstances have already pushed parts of theoretical US constitutional law into a much more real place than many experts ever believed they would live to see.

What has Trump said about the investigations?

The former president has, of course, reed bullish throughout all of this, the master of projection characterising the multiple investigations into his conduct as all part of one giant politically-motivated “hoax” or conspiracy, an attempt to “steal” the 2024 election from him by his many enemies.

He has also not shied away from insulting the prosecutors pursuing him and the judges presiding over his cases, even when he has been warned to hold his tongue and steer clear.

On 1 August 2023, for instance, Mr Trump called Mr Smith “deranged” and insisted the federal charges he had brought against him amounted to a “fake indictment”.

“The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes,” a statement from his campaign read.

“President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys.”

Two days later, the former president left his arraignment hearing in DC after pleading not guilty to the 2020 election charges and told the press: “When you look at what’s happening this is a persecution of a political opponent.

“This was never supposed to happen in America. This is the persecution of the person that’s leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Joe Biden by a lot so if you can’t beat them you persecute them or prosecute ‘em.”

In response to the Georgia indictment, less than two weeks later, Mr Trump claimed it was “bogus”, saying it was a violation of his First Amendment rights, and he has since speculated on his Truth Social network that this bail being set at $200,000 was intended to prevent him from absconding to Russia.

This mix of conspiracy theories and personal attacks has persisted for the past year and, even with the imposition of gag orders in the civil fraud and hush money cases, looks set to continue.

This story was updated on 12 April 2024 to reflect new developments.

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