Yoel Ackerman

Can Trump Still Become President as a Felon?

As Donald Trump’s first criminal trial comes to a close, many have asked the obvious question: What happens if a presidential candidate finds himself in prison? The U.S. Constitution sets the qualifications for presidential candidates, and it does not explicitly prohibit felons from running for office. As long as the candidate meets the constitutional requirements (e.g., natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a resident of the U.S. for 14 years), they can continue their campaign even if they are jailed. (However, individual States have their own rules for getting onto the ballot and for removing someone from the ballot.) In fact, there are at least two people who have run for President while in jail.  Eugene Debs ran for President while in a federal prison in Atlanta as the nominee of the Socialist Party. He received almost one million votes without even stepping foot onto the campaign trial. Lyndon LaRouche ran for President in every election between 1976 and 2004. 

The most recent political candidate to come close to facing prison time, is former President Richard Nixon. Nixon was involved in the infamous “Watergate Scandal.” Watergate involved burglaries, illegal wiretaps and other crimes committed by operatives for Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. Forty federal officials were indicted or jailed in the case, including Nixon’s chief of staff, White House attorney, chief domestic adviser and attorney general. All had carried out orders that, directly or indirectly, originated with Nixon himself. Nixon escaped prison time, because his successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned him.

In Trump’s case, if the jury finds him guilty, Judge Merchan will decide Trump’s fate and it is possible that he could penalize Trump without sending him to prison. (Trump would be a first-time offender.) Trump could also be sent to the infamous Rikers Island Prison where his former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg is currently serving his sentence for crimes related to his work for Trump. Of note also, if Trump is found guilty in the New York criminal trial, he would not be able to pardon himself if he becomes President, as Presidents cannot pardon someone for State crimes.   In theory, it is also possible for Trump to become the next United States President while in prison and carry out the Presidential duties from prison. In this scenario, there is nothing stopping Congress or the Senate from impeaching him to remove him from office. In theory, he could be deemed disabled under the 25th Amendment allowing his Vice President to take over for the duration of his incarceration.  If Trump is convicted, he would surely appeal the conviction all the way to the New York Court of Appeals, and this could take months. By this time, he might even be the Presidential nominee. In theory, if the highest Court in New York affirms the conviction, then for the first time ever, a sitting United States President might be whisked off from the Oval Office back to New York to serve a prison sentence.

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About the Author
Yoel Ackerman is a blogger and content writer at several media outlets, including the Lakewood Scoop and The Times of Israel. He also works as a Paralegal and is currently pursuing a degree in law. His content often includes the news of the day, from a legal perspective.