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Explained | Could Trump be president despite his legal troubles?

Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has been charged in four separate criminal cases, and could face his first trial as soon as March.

The former US president has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and his legal woes are unlikely to prevent him from reclaiming office if elected. Below is an explanation of why.

Is Trump eligible to be President despite the criminal charges?

The US Constitution requires that presidents be at least 35 years old and US citizens who have lived in the country for 14 years.

Congress added a clause in the 14th Amendment following the Civil War that bars officials who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding federal office.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 19 that Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state’s primary election ballot because he engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters attacked the US Capitol.

Trump, who has denied wrongdoing on Jan. 6, has said he will appeal to the US Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees. The Colorado ruling is on hold until at least Jan. 4, 2024.

Courts are divided on whether the insurrection clause applies to the president. The Colorado ruling reversed a lower court judge who agreed Trump had engaged in insurrection but said he was not an “officer of the United States” who could be disqualified under that Amendment.

Judges in several states, including Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire have dismissed lawsuits similar to the one brought in Colorado.

Trump has not been formally charged with insurrection.

Could Trump end the criminal cases against him if he’s elected?

Trump faces two federal cases, including one accusing him of unlawfully attempting to reverse his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden and another over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office. Both cases were brought by US special counsel Jack Smith.

Trump could not fire Smith directly but could appoint an attorney general who would, though Smith could only be dismissed for misconduct or “other good cause.”

Trump also has been indicted in New York state court for hush money payments paid to a porn star ahead of his 2016 election win and in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Presidents do not have the authority to fire state prosecutors and Trump would have no power to end these investigations.

Have Trump’s legal woes hurt his bid for presidency?

So far, Trump has used the cases to his advantage, claiming they are part of a political conspiracy against him, and his campaign’s financial filings have shown surges in donations following his indictments.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in early December found that 52 per cent of self-identified Republican voters would vote for Trump even if he were convicted of a felony by a jury, and 46 per cent would vote for him if he were serving time in prison.

Some 31 per cent of Republicans would not vote for him if he were convicted, and 39 per cent would not if he were in prison. The rest said they did not know what they would do.

Could Trump pardon himself if he is convicted?

If he is elected president, Trump could try to pardon himself if he were convicted in either federal case. Presidents have broad pardon powers, though legal scholars disagree about whether a self pardon violates the basic principle that nobody should be the judge in their own case.

The question would almost certainly be decided by the Supreme Court.

Trump has no power to pardon himself in the state cases. He could still be elected and sworn into office even if he is convicted in either the New York or Georgia case.

The New York case is currently set for March 25. The Georgia case is not expected to take place before the election.

(Published 21 December 2023, 02:43 IST)

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