The FBI’s dramatic search of Donald Trump‘s Florida home on Monday marked a sudden escalation in the investigation into the former president and raised new legal questions that could – in theory – change the course of the US presidency. Because if the investigation – believed to be linked to Mr. Trump’s handling of classified presidential documents – ends in a conviction, some suggest he could be legally barred from running for president again. What does the FBI’s research say about the progress of the investigation into Mr Trump – and could he really be sidelined in 2024? Joseph Moreno, a former Justice Department prosecutor, said the nature and sensitivity of the search at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach suggests the investigation is headed toward possible indictments. “Someone from the FBI and a federal attorney general believe there is a criminal violation of the Presidential Archives Act [which requires presidents to transfer all their documents and emails to the National Archives] or other laws governing classified documents, and that’s why they continued,” Moreno says. Much of the analysis following the raid — and the key piece relating to the 2024 election — has focused on an obscure criminal statute: Section 2071 of Title 18 of the United States Code. It states that anyone in possession of government records who “willfully and unlawfully conceals, deletes, mutilates, any record, procedure, chart, book, paper, document or anything else filed or deposited in any public office, erased or destroyed.” may be punished by a fine or imprisonment for up to three years. Basically, anyone convicted under this law should be barred from “holding” federal office. For that reason, some suggest a conviction could all but end Mr. Trump’s so-called hopes of a return to the White House. “That’s the real law, and if Donald Trump breaks that law…it carries real penalties, including the possibility that he may never serve in federal office again. However, some legal experts were quick to insist the law was unlikely to apply or survive appeals, as the only restrictions on presidential eligibility are citizenship, residency and age.
“The law would not withstand constitutional scrutiny,” said Michigan State University constitutional law professor Brian Kalt. Legal and constitutional experts have also said that there is no blanket ban on convicted felons running for president. The most recent example is that of George W. Bush, who was convicted of drunk driving, a minor crime ,but served two sentences. Eligibility criteria for running for president are determined by the United States Constitution. These eligibility requirements are simple: a candidate must be at least 35 years old, be a native citizen, and have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. So there is an obvious tension – between a federal statute that says that those who have been sentenced under the aforementioned law should be barred from office, and the constitution, which sets out clear requirements for who is eligible to run for president and does not mention any criminal convictions. “The fundamental principle of constitutional law is that the Constitution is supreme and any law contrary to the Constitution is void,” Kalt added. A number of legal experts have also suggested that Congress may disqualify a candidate from office through impeachment proceedings, but the United States Constitution does not grant such authority for convictions under ordinary criminal law. “The only way to deny him the candidacy would be for Congress [with impeachment powers] to ban him, but that would be very unusual,” said Moreno, the former Justice Department prosecutor.
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