Donald Trump’s possible trials: will they affect his candidacy?


Chicago Tribune

Former President Donald Trump is facing a possible trial for his involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There are two key events during former president Donald Trump’s time in office: his impeachment trial and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection of the U.S. capitol. Recently, these two moments are merging into one as there is a possible trial in the former president’s future.

Trump has recently been referred by the Jan. 6 Committee to the Department of Justice to face criminal charges. He has been accused of inciting an insurrection and conspiring against the government in his attempt to change the outcome of the 2020 election. 

Regardless of any citizen’s belief on the topic, these are the findings from the Jan. 6 Committee. As the name suggests, the committee was formed with the specific purpose of investigating the attack on the capitol. The members of the bipartisan select committee by the U.S. House of Representatives are as follows: Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (Mississippi), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (Wyoming), Zoe Lofgren (California), Adam B. Schiff (California), Pete Aguilar (California), Stephanie N. Murphy (Florida), Jamie Raskin (Maryland), Elaine G. Luria (Virginia), and Adam Kinzinger (Illinois). The committee, which is no longer standing, released its final report in December.

In the criminal referrals from a vote at the final Select Committee public hearing on Dec. 19, 2022, Trump’s case was turned over to the Department of Justice regarding four felonies. One is for a statute in the U.S. criminal code dealing with inciting, encouraging, or assisting an insurrection. The other felonies are for obstructing an official proceeding—the counting of electoral votes, in Trump’s case—as well as conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to make a false statement. These referrals do not require the Department of Justice to begin prosecution and also do not require the pursuit of the charges given by the committee. Those choices are given to Jack Smith, who was named the special counsel for the department’s investigation on the Jan. 6 attack, focusing largely on Trump, in November 2022. While Smith is the head of the department investigations and can recommend that Trump is charged, Attorney General Merrick Garland will have to sign off, and a grand jury would be needed to approve as well. 

There are two key events during former president Donald Trump’s time in office. One being his impeachment trial, and the other being the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection of the U.S. capitol.

There is no trial in history to base how this one could look. Presidents have been impeached—Trump himself was impeached by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019, and again on Jan. 13, 2021—but no president has been asked to turn themselves in for arraignment after leaving office with a possible outcome of arrest upon failure to comply. While the Department of Justice has charged around 900 defendants in relation to Jan. 6, Trump’s charges will likely be much different than the others. 

Will all of this affect Trump’s presidential campaign for the 2024 election? Short answer: no.

While a trial would lead to answers and possibly new opinions for the public, an indictment and trial cannot legally bar Trump from running. Likely, any attempt to prohibit him from running would face probably impossible constitutional challenges. In addition, whoever gets sworn in as president in Jan. 2025 would be able to pardon charges against Trump. However, this pardon would only work for federal crimes, not those at the state level, and Trump could be facing these. 

District Attorney Fani Willis of Fulton County, Georgia may just be in the late stages of her own investigation. Willis has Georgia laws at her disposal, including a statute on criminal solicitation of election fraud. This statute would specifically relate to Trump’s (recorded) phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” more than 11,000 votes for him. A special grand jury in Georgia has already heard testimony from witnesses including Governor Brian Kemp. Georgia would likely also be looked at in a federal trial due to Trump’s team’s outward attempt to overturn the election.

While there is no definitive answer to if there will be a trial, the Jan. 6 Committee came up with a good deal of evidence against Trump, and Willis and the Department of Justice are still running their own investigations. As for the likelihood of Trump still being able to run for office, it’s pretty much guaranteed unless he removes himself from the race.