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Donald Trump’s Legal Jeopardy and a Brief History of Leadership Contests in the Courtroom

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Trump has mounting legal woes in multiple jurisdictions but, remarkably, even if Trump is found guilty and is imprisoned, he will still be able to run for the Presidency.

In fact, this has been done before, most notably by a Socialist candidate in 1920 who received a million votes. His imprisonment seemed to bolster his campaign – and Trump could follow in those footsteps. If elected, Trump would be able to govern and pardon himself of a Federal Crime. 

Trump’s attempt to deter prosecutors from making charging decisions with an early Presidential campaign appears to be failing, as the multiple criminal and civil cases brought against him continue to play out:

DOJ – Government Documents in Mar-A-Lago and Obstruction of Justice. Jack Smith has been appointed by the US Attorney General to investigate both criminal DOJ cases. Trump was indicted in the Mar-A-Lago case on the 9th of June and will have to appear at a Miami courthouse on Tuesday 13th of June for arraignment. There is speculation that Trump will face seven charges.

New York Criminal Case – Trump was indicted on March 30, 2023 for allegedly falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels. The trial is set for March 25, 2024. Trump’s lawyers will try and drag the case out beyond the 2024 election – as seen in the attempt to recuse the presiding judge for conflicts of interest. Delays are likely to fail as the judge is determined to make early progress. This means the case could proceed during the primaries. 

Election interference – Fulton County’s probe into the infamous call from Trump to Georgia’s Secretary of State requesting additional votes be ‘found’ in recount. Criminal indictments (likely including Trump) are expected to be announced in the first two weeks of August 2023. Trump will again try to delay any case being heard following indictment. 

DOJ – January 6 Capitol Riot. It is unclear what crimes and who Smith will charge in this case. Federal trials can be dismissed at any point in the process by the government. Trump’s motion to appeal the subpoena for Pence to testify was blocked in April 2023. This is the most serious set of charges against Trump and special counsel will be wary about making charging decisions before he is fully confident in his case. 

New York Civil Case – NY Attorney General sued Trump and his organisation in September 2022 for fraud. A trial is currently set for October 2, 2023. Trump’s team are seeking delay but judges have rejected postponement. If Trump and his organisation lose there will be no custodial sentence. Instead, fines will be levied. 

E. Jean Carroll Civil Case – E Jean Carroll won a $5m sexual abuse and defamation award against Trump on May 9 2023, and is currently seeking an additional $10m for post-verdict remarks repeating the defamation. 

While this scenario seems incredible from a UK perspective, where there has been a prohibition on anyone convicted of an offence and sentenced to be imprisoned for more than a year standing for Parliament since the election of Bobby Sands to Parliament in 1981, Trump remains a clear frontrunner in the Republican primaries.

In recent Presidential elections, the Republican’s presumptive candidate has emerged sometime in May – although McCain’s candidacy was all but confirmed by early March 2008. 2024’s Republican primaries will have a presumptive winner as early as March and no later than June 2024. Should Trump emerge victorious in that contest, prosecutors will face difficult decisions about how to handle any ongoing cases – while Trump’s political opponents will face the arguably more vexing issue of how to counter Trump using his legal woes to his political advantage. 

Although the Republican primaries are expected to be competitive, the fact that Trump remains the clear frontrunner means that, for those seeking to hold him to account in the courts, the clock is ticking.

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