(Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump has been indicted for illegally retaining classified government documents after leaving office in 2021. Here’s a rundown of what this means for his 2024 presidential campaign.
WILL THE INDICTMENT PREVENT TRUMP FROM CAMPAIGNING OR TAKING OFFICE?
The indictment is under seal, but Trump’s lawyer said he is charged with seven criminal counts including violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. None of those would bar Trump from office if he is convicted.
A trial would take place several months from now, and Trump can campaign freely during this time.
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The US Constitution only requires that presidential candidates be natural-born US citizens who are at least 35 years old and have lived in the country for 14 years.
Trump said on Thursday on his Truth Social platform that he is innocent. He would be free to campaign even if he is convicted and sent to prison, and legal experts say there would be no basis to block his swearing-in as president even if he is incarcerated, though this would pose extraordinary logistical and security questions.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THE CASE HAVE ON TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN?
It is unclear what the impact will be on Trump’s standing with voters. Trump’s poll numbers rose after his indictment in March in a separate case in New York, and he is the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
He has used the cases and investigations he faces as fundraising tools, telling supporters that he is under attack and needs their help. Trump’s campaign said in April that donations surged after he was indicted in New York.
WHAT HAPPENS IF TRUMP TAKES OFFICE WHILE THE CASE IS PENDING?
It is unlikely that the prosecution would proceed if Trump won the November 2024 election.
The US Department of Justice is part of the executive branch, and presidents are the top federal law enforcement officers in the country. Federal prosecutors generally serve at their pleasure.
The US Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. The department can deviate from policy in “extraordinary circumstances” with the approval of the US attorney general.
A lame-duck attorney general serving under Democratic President Joe Biden, in this case Merrick Garland, could ignore that policy and forge ahead, but Trump, as president, could fire him and hire an acting replacement of his choice before naming a permanent successor subject to US Senate confirmation.
COULD TRUMP PARDON HIMSELF?
Many scholars have said a self-pardon would be unconstitutional because it violates the basic principle that no one should be the judge in his or her own case.
Others have argued that a self-pardon is constitutional because the pardon power is very broadly worded in the Constitution, which states that presidents “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
Trump could not pardon himself for a conviction in state court.
He is currently under indictment in New York state court for allegedly using falsified records to conceal hush money payments he paid to a porn star, and Georgia prosecutors are investigating his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in that state.
(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)
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