If Trump is indicted, how will that affect his 2024 presidential campaign?
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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NPR's Steve Inskeep speaks with Columbia Law professor Richard Briffault about what a possible indictment could mean for former President Donald Trump's political future.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
As many news organizations have reported in great detail, Donald Trump says he will be arrested on Tuesday.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's Wednesday, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's exactly right, Leila. It's Wednesday.
FADEL: Donald Trump hasn't been arrested.
INSKEEP: Oh, yes. That's because his widely reported prediction of an arrest on Tuesday turns out to be untrue. That said, nobody can rule out the possibility that the former president will be indicted sometime, somewhere, because there are multiple investigations. New York prosecutors are examining a hush money payment to an adult film star. The federal Justice Department has questioned his handling of classified documents, and Georgia prosecutors have examined his effort to overturn his election defeat in 2020. So what does all this mean for Trump's 2024 presidential campaign, which is already underway? We turn now to Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault.
Good morning, sir.
RICHARD BRIFFAULT: Good morning.
INSKEEP: And glad to hear from you. Republicans, of course, have criticized all these investigations as political, a way to interfere with his presidential campaign. So let's examine the law first. Could a prosecution prevent Trump from continuing his presidential campaign?
BRIFFAULT: Not legally. I mean, that is - the fact that he - that the president - former president might be indicted - that's not a bar to running for president. It might make it logistically more difficult for a - for somebody to run for president, but it wouldn't create a legal obstacle.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's an interesting word, logistical. Why would it be logistically more difficult for an indicted person to continue or make a presidential campaign?
BRIFFAULT: Well, once the trial begins, presumably he may want to attend. He may be called as a witness. He may be examined. He may - just the process of running a trial itself or would - could conceivably interfere with his ability to run around the country.
INSKEEP: Oh, interesting.
BRIFFAULT: Again, he might not be constrained physically, but, you know, just the process of having to deal with the case.
INSKEEP: No. We're not presuming that the former president would end up in jail prior to a trial, but we're presuming that he would be distracted, that he could be very busy. That's what you're saying.
INSKEEP: What authority, if any, does Congress have to keep someone from running for office if they were to feel that it was bad for the country?
BRIFFAULT: Not really much. I mean, the Constitution sets the criteria for eligibility for president, and he meets them. He's in a - he's over 35. He's been a resident for a long enough period of time, and he's a citizen. So there - that's really about it. It's actually would be improper for Congress to add criteria. There is a provision in the 14th Amendment for people who are involved in an insurrection against the country. They lose the ability to hold office. And Congress could conclude that. But short of that, they would - they really can't add new requirements.
INSKEEP: Yeah. And I guess we should mention that late last year, when Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress, some House Democrats introduced legislation essentially to declare that Trump couldn't run because of the 14th Amendment or declare that he could not have another campaign. But that did not pass. I'd like to know what the implications are of any of these indictments, should they ever come to pass. We have not had a president prosecuted in this way before. We've not had a former president put on trial, not even Richard Nixon after he resigned. He was pardoned for various crimes. Would this in some way change our system if there was a former president and presidential candidate on trial?
BRIFFAULT: It would really be up to the public. It would really - it continues to be a matter of how much would potential voters, both initially within a Republican primary and then should he be nominated in a general election - how much would it matter for them? Again, you know, indictment doesn't mean conviction. So the - people have been indicted for charges and have been acquitted. So it's not clear that indictment necessarily means anything. But ultimately, it would be up to the voters to make the decision.
INSKEEP: But would it in some way politicize our system beyond whatever it is now?
BRIFFAULT: Well, that's the concern. I mean, you've got the dueling concerns here. One is the possibility of a political prosecution, and that's certainly what's being charged by the former president's defenders. On the other hand, there's the basic proposition that nobody's above the law and that if somebody commits a crime, they should be charged for it, no matter how important they are or how high a position they've held. No one - there wouldn't be any question about this if this, say, was a homicide case.
INSKEEP: Richard Briffault of Columbia Law School, thanks so much. Pleasure talking with you.
BRIFFAULT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.View this story on npr.org
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