By all indications, former President Donald Trump is preparing to announce his 2024 presidential bid, possibly at a November 15 event at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. Can his status as a presidential candidate prevent him from speaking out in multiple legal battles?
Legal experts told PolitiFact that Trump would not benefit in terms of power by formally announcing his candidacy, especially two years before the election. And the unofficial benefits can be great, experts say.
“As a candidate Trump has no legal protection from criminal prosecution for crimes committed during or after his presidency,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. “Since he’s running as a candidate, that’s different, but right now his status is ‘From Florida,’ not ‘president.'”
What legal issues does Trump face now?
The most important legal concerns for Trump are these four issues:
• Management of presidential records: The Justice Department is investigating government documents that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. Federal agents searched his estate in August and seized thousands of documents, including some that were classified. Criminal charges are likely, but have not yet been filed.
• Trump’s business dealings: New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office is leading a civil investigation into Trump’s businesses over allegations of defrauding the value of his assets. Relatedly, the office of the district attorney of Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, continues to investigate the criminal activities of Trump’s companies, although the status of this investigation is not clear.
• Enter January 6, 2021, riot: Parallel investigations are ongoing into the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the events leading up to it. A House select committee has been investigating the incident for more than a year, and a criminal complaint may be filed with the Justice Department. At the same time, the Justice Department is prosecuting hundreds of Capitol looters. Trump could face more serious problems come Jan. 6, but that’s not clear at this point.
• Attempts to change government election results: Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is looking into criminal charges related to Trump’s efforts to get federal officials to access the products 2020 election in Georgia, Joe Biden won.
Is announcing his presidency to protect him from any of these investigations?
In terms of status, Trump can’t get protection by formally being a candidate, experts say.
“Donald Trump the candidate will remain a private citizen and will not be subject to legal proceedings against him or to be protected under the law,” said Kenneth Gross, a senior political consultant at the Akin Gump firm.
Justice Department policy has long barred sitting presidents from federal prosecution, but once they leave office, that restriction no longer applies. The Constitution states in Article I, Section 3, Article 7 that former presidents can be impeached for actions taken during their presidency.
The same goes for presidential candidates who have never been president, said Ric Simmons, an Ohio State University law professor. “There are no policy rules or guidelines that prevent a prosecutor from impeaching a presidential candidate,” Simmons said.
One law may benefit Trump’s candidacy, but it won’t apply for the better part of two years: the Justice Department’s long-standing measures to prevent political interference during the election.
This was recently stated in a memo signed by Attorney General Merrick Garland on May 25, 2022. He wrote:
“The Department of Justice is very focused on prosecuting election-related crimes, such as those related to federal and state policy funding laws, state-sponsored laws and government, and corruption in the electoral process.a focus on protecting the agency’s reputation for integrity, impartiality, and non-partisanship.
“Simply put, politics should play a role in decisions made by federal investigators or prosecutors regarding prosecutions or criminal charges. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors may not select time for public hearings (whether or not named), investigations, prosecutions, or other proceedings in any matter or case relating to an election, for or benefit any candidate or political party.”
Neither this memo nor previous ones set a length for the “quiet period” for elections, although 60 days is used as an estimate.
“Some people say there’s a 60-day cooling-off period, and it shouldn’t be public, but that’s not part of any policy,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. of Eastern Michigan, told PolitiFact in 2018.
Some of the current inspections will continue until fall 2024, experts said. And if anything, the late 2022 midterms mean the quiet times are over and increased scrutiny.
“A lot of notices and approvals are required when someone speaks for the president, but it can be impeached if the attorney general approves,” said James Robenalt, an attorney with the firm Thompson Hine and an expert on Watergate. and other political studies.
How effective will Trump be in announcing his proposal?
The informal benefits from announcing his proposal at this time will be limited, if the experts agree.
“Even if it’s a candidate who doesn’t get legal protection, he can say that any of the research is political,” said Elise Bean, a former congressional analyst for Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., now works for the Levin Center for Scrutiny and Democracy at Wayne State University’s law school.
The question in Trump’s case is whether that will work as well. Since he lost in 2020, Trump has been saying he wants to seek the presidency again, so the story has little impact.
“This kind of political activity prevents the prosecutor from bringing charges, and that may be a factor in the jury’s decision to convict him,” Simmons said. “However, because everyone knows that Trump will be the candidate, it is not clear what the reason for this is.”
Either way, prosecutors are careful to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” Gross said.
“I don’t think a formal announcement will stop the prosecutors, but they will make their case six ways on Sunday,” he said.
This story first appeared on politifact.com.