HomePoliticsYes, Trump could be elected president as a convicted felon

Yes, Trump could be elected president as a convicted felon

Former President Trump made history last year as the country’s first top executive to be charged with a crime.

This week, he will add another chapter: He will become the first former president to stand trial on criminal charges.

And later this year, he could even surpass that if he becomes the first candidate with a criminal record to win the presidency.

Here’s a look at the unprecedented legal questions Trump’s situation raises.

Can Trump become president after being convicted of a crime?

Yes.

There is nothing in the Constitution or federal law that prevents a felon from holding the highest office in the land.

While many federal employees would not be hired if they had a felony conviction, the Constitution only imposes a few bare-bones requirements on the CEO.

“No person except a natural-born citizen…shall be eligible to hold the office of president,” it reads.

While today’s voters worry about candidates who are too old, the men who wrote the 1787 document sought to exclude those who were too young or lived abroad. A president must “have attained the age of 35 years and resided in the United States for fourteen years.”

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Elizabeth Wydra, president of the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, says it is a mistake to assume the justice system will stand in Trump’s way.

“There is nothing stopping him from running for president and being elected, even if he is in prison at the time of the election,” she said.

Moreover, the law is not that generous to voters, she noted.

“Having a felony conviction on your record could prevent you from voting for president in some states,” Wydra said.

How is it possible that the Constitution lacks such a good conduct clause?

Historians say the eminent figures who wrote the Constitution placed their trust in the voters to choose the president.

They did not anticipate that a notorious character would one day win the allegiance of these voters, who, like them, were generally white, property-owning men. Alexander Hamilton, who helped devise the electoral college system, expressed confidence that it would produce “characters par excellence in ability and virtue” who would win the “esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”

Within a few decades, that system was gradually replaced by one in which voters decide each state based on voters who have committed themselves to one candidate.

Doesn’t the 14th Amendment disqualify candidates who are “involved in an insurrection?”

Yes, but Trump was not charged with insurrection following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

And the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in March that states acting on their own cannot enforce this provision.

Congress should take action to enforce this provision.

Has anyone ever run for president from prison?

Yes.

Eugene Debs ran for president of the Socialist Party five times and won nearly a million votes in 1920, while serving a prison sentence for sedition.

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Debs had spoken out against the draft for World War I and had angered President Wilson. But shortly after winning the White House, President Harding commuted the sentence.

What are the chances that Trump will be convicted before the election?

It is very possible.

Trump faces four sets of criminal charges.

The two most serious cases involve the federal indictment filed by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith. He sued Trump in Washington for conspiring to undermine the counting of electoral votes after Trump lost the November 2020 election.

In a separate case, Trump was accused of leaving the White House with top secret documents, keeping them at his Florida home and refusing to return them when requested.

Both cases are moving slowly and are not expected to be adjudicated and concluded before the November elections.

What happens to federal cases if Trump wins the election?

If Trump were to be re-elected president, the president could order federal charges dropped.

He could also pardon all his aides and allies, as well as the hundreds of his supporters who breached the Capitol to block the certification of President Biden’s victory.

What about the Georgia election interference case?

In a third criminal case, Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, has filed a sweeping indictment against Trump and 18 others for allegedly conspiring to disrupt the vote count there.

That case was sidetracked by allegations that Willis hired a romantic partner to lead the prosecution.

So which case is most likely to reach a conclusion before the election?

The “hush money” case heading to trial in New York may be the least serious of all, but it has the greatest chance of being decided by a jury ahead of the election.

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The state trial was scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection.

Trump was charged with making 34 payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen for what were listed on the company’s books as legal fees.

But the payments included reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 he gave to adult film actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her from revealing an alleged past sexual encounter with Trump.

This record-keeping violation could be punished as a low-level misdemeanor if it can be shown that Trump committed a second crime by attempting to conceal campaign contributions that influenced the election. Trump said he tried to hide the story from his wife.

Could Trump face jail time if convicted in hush money case?

Yes, but that’s unlikely.

New York attorneys say defendants without a criminal record who are found guilty of a non-violent crime typically receive probation and no jail time.

And even if Trump were to provoke an irritated judge into making an exception in his case, he could be released on bail while his lawyers appeal the conviction.

Can a re-elected President Trump pardon himself in the New York hush money case?

No.

The president’s pardon power is very broad, but only applies to federal offenses, not crimes under state law. The same would apply to the case of Georgia.

What happens to the New York case if Trump wins the election?

That is unclear.

Judges in New York could suspend the case if Trump is re-elected. It has been Justice Department policy for years that presidents should not be distracted by civil and criminal cases while in office, although such cases have proceeded to some extent.

The Justice Department, under re-elected President Trump, will likely argue that federal law is supreme and that the president should be protected from such cases while in office.

The Constitution says that “the Judges in every State shall be bound” by laws made “under the authority of the United States.”

The Georgia case would also likely be stayed.

But there is no clear precedent.

“We are certainly in new territory,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center in New York. “We don’t know because we have no experience with this situation.”

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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