Can Donald Trump still run for president after four criminal indictments?

Republican former president faces federal indictments in Florida and DC and criminal and civil cases in both New York and Georgia

John Bowden,Alex Woodward,Ariana Baio
Friday 29 December 2023 16:03
'Persecution': Watch Trump's reaction after leaving DC court after arrest

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, leading the race to secure the Republican presidential nomination with ease despite the myriad legal problems he faces.

The former president, already the first to be impeached twice, was indicted for a fourth time in Georgia on 14 August – less than a month after Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith unveiled federal charges against him for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

This time, Mr Trump was 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 Joe 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 a 98-page dossier, based on a two-year investigation, Ms Willis outlined the ways that Mr Trump and his co-defendants had allegedly conspired to replace electors with fake ones, unlawfully accessed voter data, harassed election workers and solicited public officials to reject the results.

The former president surrendered to authorities in Fulton County on 24 August where he was arrested, fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken. On 31 August, he pleaded not guilty and waived his formal arraignment – avoiding what would have been his first televised court hearing.

Mr Trump’s troubles began in earnest in April this year 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.

Former president Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan court for his first arraignment of the year on Tuesday 4 April 2023

His second indictment of the year followed in June when Mr 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 with obstruction of justice. A second Trump employee, Carlos De Oliveira, was later also accused of playing a role in the alleged coverup.

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.

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.

In addition to all of this, he has been caught up in a $250m civil lawsuit from New York attorney general Letitia James, whose investigation allegedly reveals “years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth... to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York”.

Mr Trump was also found liable for the sexual abuse and defamation of Elle magazine columnist E Jean Carroll by a Manhattan civil jury early this year. Ms Carroll, 79, sued the former president for assaulting her and then “destroying” her reputation when he accused her of lying about the encounter, claiming that she was not his “type”.

Despite all of the above, conservative voters appear to be unmoved and Mr Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The candidate himself has insisted that he will remain in the race regardless of any outcome of the criminal cases against him.

He has also relied on news of the investigations and indictments to raise money for his campaign, which has netted millions of dollars from sympathetic supporters buying into his “political persecution” narrative.

But with potential convictions and judgments in both federal and state indictments and with multi-million dollar lawsuits to fight, what will all of this rolling chaos mean for Mr Trump’s political future?

Can Trump still run for president?

There are no explicit restrictions in the 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.

However, there is a little-known provision to the 14th Amendment that has inspired some people to file a lawsuit in an attempt to bar Mr Trump from appearing on the ballot in 2024. Section three of the amendment disqualifies people from running for office who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”

Though Mr Trump has not (yet) been charged with inciting an insurrection, he undoubtedly fueled the anger that drove his supporters to storm the Capitol, which was the conclusion reached by Colorado’s highest court and Maine’s secretary of state in December.

Looking at his calendar ahead, Mr Trump has a string of trial dates upcoming coinciding with the 2024 election.

Judge Tanya Chutkan has set his federal 2020 election interference trial date to begin on 4 March in Washington, DC.

His hush-money payment trial is then set for 25 March in Manhattan while Judge Aileen Cannon has chosen 20 May as the start date for Mr Trump’s classified documents trial in Florida. Judge Scott McAfee has picked a provisional trial date of 5 August for the Georgia 2020 election interference case, although Ms Willis has said she is “ready and willing” to bring it forward.

Even if Mr Trump were to be tried and convicted in one of the 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.

Donald Trump’s police booking mugshot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia

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 Mr Trump 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.

In Ms Carroll’s case, Mr Trump did not face any jail time because it was 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 the prospective presidential pardon 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 fulfill 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 little more than a distant possibility.

But the conversations he has started with his bid for the presidency, despite facing four criminal indictments, 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 probes?

The former president has repeatedly characterised the multiple investigations against him, including the January 6 probe, as a politically motivated “hoax” and an attempt to “steal” the 2024 election from him.

On 1 August, Mr Trump called Mr Smith “deranged” and the federal charges 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. President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys,” a statement from Mr Trump’s campaign read.

On 3 August, the former commander-in-chief left his arraignment 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 his Georgia indictment, Mr Trump claimed it was “bogus” saying it was a violation of his First Amendment right and has since speculated on Truth Social that this bail being set at $200,000 was intended to prevent him from absconding to Russia.

This story was updated on 29 December 2023 to reflect new developments

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