Fbi Searched Donald Trump’s Florida Home: Here Are 7 Answers To Key Questions

FBI Searched Donald Trump’s Florida Home: Here Are 7 Answers To Key Questions

WASHINGTON — The FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence has raised the question of whether the criminal investigation could lead to a legal blocking of his ability to become president again, even if he chooses to run in the 2024 election.

Any conviction under criminal law that appears to be related to the investigation includes an unusual penalty: disqualification from holding any federal office. But there are reasons to be cautious before concluding that if Trump were charged and convicted under that law, he could not legally return to the White House even if voters wanted him to.

Here is a more detailed analysis of the case, starting with the most basic.

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What originated the search warrant?

The Justice Department has declined to comment. But by its nature, the warrant means there is an ongoing criminal investigation. Early reports citing sources familiar with the matter have indicated that the criminal investigation behind the search warrant relates to suspicions that Trump illegally took government files when he left the White House.

Earlier this year, the National Archives recovered 15 boxes Trump took home to Mar-a-Lago from the White House residence when his term ended, saying some were found to contain classified information.

But it’s not clear whether Trump gave up everything. In a statement denouncing the FBI’s action on Monday, Trump said law enforcement officers “even broke into my safe.”

What laws apply to document extraction?

There are various laws that could potentially cover such a situation. For example, Espionage Lawwhich criminalizes the unauthorized withholding of defense-related information that could be used to harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison per felony.

But the law that has drawn particular attention is the Section 2071 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which makes it a crime for someone in their custody to knowingly and unlawfully “conceal, delete, mutilate, erase, falsify, or destroy” government documents or records. Section 2071 is not limited to classified information.

If convicted under that law, defendants can be fined up to $2,000 and sentenced to prison for up to three years. In addition, the statute says that if they are currently in federal office, they will “lose” that office and—perhaps more importantly, given widespread expectations that Trump will seek re-election again—will “be disqualified from holding” any federal office.

How could a conviction influence the next elections?

If Trump were charged and convicted under Section 2071, voters or rival candidates in the state primary for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination could challenge his eligibility for that office, asking that his name be omitted from the primary ballot.

Each state administers its own elections, so the exact process would vary. But generally, that challenge would first come before a state board of elections. The board’s decision could be appealed in the state court system, the outcome of which could in turn be appealed to the Supreme Court.

How could disbarment be challenged on a ballot?

On the grounds that the disqualification provision of Section 2071 is unconstitutional as it pertains to the presidency.

Article II of the United States Constitution establishes three criteria for presidential eligibility: one must be a “natural born citizen”, be at least 35 years of age and be a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

Since the Constitution takes precedence when the Constitution and a federal law conflict, the argument would be that Congress lacks the authority to alter that list of criteria, for example, adding a requirement of not having been convicted of illegally taking government documents. .

In particular, the Constitution does authorize Congress to disqualify individuals from holding federal office as a penalty for convictions in impeachment proceedings. But nothing in the text of the Constitution says that legislators can use ordinary criminal law to do so.

What have the courts said?

The Supreme Court has never ruled on a presidential candidate whose eligibility has been questioned based on a conviction under a law whose penalties included disqualification from office. But there have been cases involving Congress that have raised analogous disputes.

In a case from 1969, the Supreme Court rejected a majority House attempt to bar Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from taking his seat; voters in his district had re-elected him despite allegations of misconduct. The court ruled that since he met the Constitution’s eligibility criteria for membership in the House, “the House lacked the power to exclude him from membership.”

Quoting Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in that majority opinion that “a fundamental principle of our representative democracy is that the people should elect whomever they choose to govern them.”

Y in a 1995 case, the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Arkansas constitution that had attempted to impose term limits on members of the House of Representatives and senators elected from that state. Judge John Paul Stevens wrote that the state had no power to add qualifications to the list of eligibility criteria established by the federal Constitution.

Citing these and other precedents in an aside in a case from the year 2000 before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit of Chicago, Judge Richard Posner, who has been considered the most cited American jurist of all timeasserted that Congress lacked the authority to supplement the eligibility requirements for the presidency contained in the Constitution.

What did people say about Hillary Clinton?

Section 2071 underwent a brief review in 2015, after it emerged that Clinton, then anticipated to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, had used a private email server to conduct government business while secretary. of State.

Clinton was never charged with any crime related to her use of the server. However, many Republicans embraced Donald Trump’s criticism of the issue during his 2016 presidential campaign, with some briefly warming to the idea that the law could be used to keep Clinton out of the White House. Among them was Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. So was at least one conservative research center.

But considering that situation, Seth Barrett Tillmanscholar of the United States and the law who now teaches at the University of Maynooth, in IrelandY Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles.argued that they were wrong, citing court rulings and the argument that Congress cannot alter the eligibility criteria established in the text of the Constitution.

Volokh wrote later on his blog that Mukasey — who is also a former federal judge — had written him a polite email saying that “on reflection,” Mukasey had been wrong and that Tillman’s analysis was “sound.”

What is being said about Trump now?

After the Mar-a-Lago search warrant came to light, one of the most prominent voices taking aim at Section 2071 was that of Marc Elias, who served as general counsel to the Clinton campaign in 2016. Initially, he cited the disbarment provision of the law in a post on Twitter as “the really, really big reason why today’s raid is a potential blockbuster in American politics.”

But he followed that up with another Twitter post acknowledging that any conviction under Section 2071 might not ultimately prevent Trump from seeking the presidency again, but arguing that a legal fight over it would nonetheless be important because of the prospect. of legal fights over whether his name could be kept off state ballots.

“Yes, I recognize the legal challenge that the application of this law to a president could reap (since the qualifications are established in the Constitution)”, wrote Elijah. “But the idea that a candidate has to litigate this during a campaign is, in my opinion, a ‘blockbuster in American politics.'”

Charlie Savage is a Washington-based national security and legal policy correspondent. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, previously worked at The Boston Globe and The Miami Herald. His most recent book is Power Wars: The Relentless Rise of Presidential Authority and Secrecy. @charlie_savageFacebook



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