Donald Trump became the first president on Thursday to face criminal charges – an indictment that comes several months after the former president announced he’s running for reelection.
Trump’s indictment comes in response to an investigation launched by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) regarding possible involvement in a hush money payment that was made during his 2016 campaign to an adult film actress.
Details about the exact criminal charges remain unknown publicly at this point.
The indictment has raised numerous questions over Trump’s run for office, but legal scholars explain that Trump is still legally able to continue his White House bid while he faces criminal charges.
Saikrishna Prakash, a law professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Law, explains that the Constitution does not offer any disqualifications for candidates seeking the presidency if they’re either indicted or in jail.
“There is no disqualification that says that if you are indicted, you can’t run in the Constitution. There’s not even a disqualification that says that if you’re in jail, you can’t run. And so the Constitution itself has limited qualifications and doesn’t say that you can’t serve if you’re indicted or in jail,” said Prakash, who’s also the author of “Prosecuting and Punishing Our Presidents” in the Texas Law Review.
The big unknown, however, is when the criminal prosecution – and possible conviction – might take place given Trump’s candidacy. Those questions could become murkier if the former president wins reelection for the White House in 2024.
“The easy answer is we have no idea. We don’t know because it’s never happened,” said Susan Low Bloch, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown Law School.
If Trump wins the presidency in 2024, Bloch sees two possibilities: “One is that the indictment and thereafter a trial goes forward, even though he’s now president, or the indictment gets sort of suspended,” she said.
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She explained that she didn’t believe that a sitting president should be tried and indicted, but that the prosecution should take place after that person leaves office.
“My position is that the president is unique in our system, he or she is one person, and that the criminal system should be able to wait while the president carries out his or her duties and that it’s basically bad for the country to have a president tied up in a criminal trial,” she explained.
Prakash explained that while the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has taken the stance against indicting or prosecuting a sitting president, local prosecutors, like Bragg could make their own decisions on that and do not necessarily have to take the same position as the Justice Department.
“The state attorney general or the state prosecutor or a local prosecutor, or Alvin Bragg or whoever, doesn’t need to believe what the OLC believes, and therefore can come to a different conclusion and, you know, basically put the issue into court. And then the court would decide it,” he explained.