The U.S. has had its share of leaders who the public has deemed questionable. From presidents who supported or did not actively oppose slavery to those like Richard Nixon, controversy is no stranger to American political figures. However, on Tuesday, April 4, it was Donald Trump who became the first U.S. president to face criminal charges.
“I find it very interesting Trump is the first president to face criminal charges,” Ali Richardson, a sophmore from Oklahoma Christian University majoring in Political Science, said. “Oftentimes, the office of the chief executive is dipped in scandal and secrecy, but there have never been criminal charges prior to this.”
Trump could face more charges in the other cases against him, but he has so far pleaded not guilty in regards to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records when reimbursing his lawyer for paying an adult film actress hush money for an affair they allegedly had together.
“I think it is also crucial to note the high levels of publicity surrounding his indictment, an effect of his past office, with what seems to be every camera in America turned towards his court proceedings,” Richardson said
Between now and Aug. 8, prosecutors will hand over three sets of discovery materials to Trump’s legal team. All motions from Trump’s side must be filed by Aug. 8, whether to dismiss the charges, downgrade them or claim they’ve exceeded the statute of limitations. Prosecutors will have around a month to file responses to these motions. The next court date set is Dec. 4.
In his bid for 2024 presidential candidacy, Trump claimed he would run no matter what, even from prison – but can he?
“I honestly am not sure what to think regarding the concept of a candidate running for president from prison,” Richardson said. “Constitutionally speaking, someone can run for president from prison, with the only requirements laid out by the founders being 35+ years of age, born a natural citizen of the United States and must be a U.S resident for at least 14 years.
“I believe due to the founders indicating these to be the base requirements, all who fall under these categories have the inherent right to run for president (even from prison) if they so wish. From there, who is elected is left in the hands of the people that can decide who they believe to be the best candidate.”
If Trump went to jail and followed through on his promise, he would not be the first to run from prison. The most successful previous attempt for presidency from prison, a million-vote run by Eugene Debs in the 1920s, only managed three-percent of the popular vote. Still, Trump may have a strong incentive to try anyway.
The indictment against Trump in New York is state-level, but the other cases surrounding him are federal, and it is federal-level charges the president can pardon. So, though unprecedented, Trump could arguably pardon himself from those charges, assuming they occur in the first place.
“It provides a strange reason to run, but a powerful incentive,” David Stebenne, a professor of history and law at Ohio State University, said.
However, the effort is likely to be a futile one, according to former attorney general William Barr.
Barr said he expects Trump’s legal woes will drag out throughout the 2024 election season, to Trump’s advantage during the primaries as Republicans rally around him — but disadvantage in the general election.
“He’s already a weak candidate I believe would lose, but I think this sort-of assures it,” Barr said.
Barr did say the indictment was a weak case, even going so far as to call it “an unjust case abusing prosecutorial power to accomplish a political end,” but he also said the federal cases are likely to hold more water, especially in the instance of the classified documents found at Mar-a-lago, Trump’s Florida home.
No matter the outcome of Trump’s legal troubles, they are not a good look for his candidacy, according to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“No matter what he says and what his people say, being indicted is not good for a political candidate,” Christie said.