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Trump announcement in 2024 would complicate ongoing investigationsExBulletin

Trump announcement in 2024 would complicate ongoing investigationsExBulletin

 


Legal experts say former President Trump will get no protection from ongoing investigations if he declares his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race, but that could complicate the optics.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A federal judge released a more detailed list of items seized by the FBI from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home yesterday. It’s the latest in a series of developments in state and federal investigations involving Donald Trump – at the same time he has publicly suggested he could run for president again in 2024. The NPR Justice Correspondent , Ryan Lucas, joins us. Ryan, thanks for being with us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And if Donald Trump officially announces his candidacy, does that have an effect on the investigations surrounding him?

LUCAS: Well, I asked a version of this exact question to several legal experts, and the answer I got basically boiled down to this. Legally speaking, this would have no effect on these investigations. Here’s how Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, put it.

JESSICA LEVINSON: If President Trump decides to become a Trump candidate again, it will have no legal impact on criminal investigations against him. It will have a huge political impact, but there is no legal change that happens when you investigate a former president versus a candidate.

LUCAS: And that goes for criminal or civil investigations at the state and federal level.

SIMON: Tell us about the state investigations that implicated Donald Trump in New York and Georgia.

LUCAS: Well, in New York, the State Attorney General is conducting a civil investigation into Trump’s business practices. Trump was recently deposed in this investigation, and he pleaded the Fifth in this deposition. In Georgia, the Fulton County district attorney has a special grand jury investigation underway looking into efforts to reverse Trump’s election defeat in that state.

And then, of course, there is also the federal level. The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of documents that ended up in Mar-a-Lago after Trump left. And, of course, there’s the January 6 investigation and the attack on the Capitol. And as part of that, the feds are exploring a plan to introduce a list of fake pro-Trump voters. Now, it’s important to say that Trump hasn’t been charged in these investigations, but certainly, he faces a lot of legal scrutiny here.

SIMON: After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, many of Trump’s allies and supporters were publicly encouraging him to declare his candidacy. Some others urged caution. If there is no legal impact, is there urgency one way or the other?

LUCAS: Well, while it wouldn’t change the legal analysis or change the way authorities conduct their various investigations, reporting would complicate things for them because of the charged political environment right now in this country. Justice Department leaders and state officials know, of course, that any decision they make would not be made in a vacuum. And so from Trump’s perspective, Levinson says good legal and policy advice would be to declare. Because if that does not isolate him legally, it politically complicates these investigations.

LEVINSON: It could make prosecutors at both the federal and state levels much more reluctant to press charges because it will look like a potential political motivation as opposed to a judicial decision.

LUCAS: And remember, Trump, for years, accused the Justice Department and the FBI of being after him. He made the same claim, without proof, after the search of Mar-a-Lago. And he’s likely to continue to make that claim, that narrative, if he decides to run in 2024.

SIMON: How do prosecutors do their duty in the face of these kinds of challenges?

LUCAS: Well, Levinson says his advice to prosecutors right now is that there are huge implications for the rule of law and for American politics if they decide not to indict someone because he is a candidate. There is enormous harm, she thinks, if prosecutors don’t pursue charges against Trump that they would pursue against anyone else. Now Attorney General Merrick Garland has repeatedly said the department will follow the facts and the law. And he said no one is above the law. It remains to be seen whether the evidence gathered by prosecutors will ultimately lead to charges being brought against Trump. For now, of course, these investigations are continuing.

SIMON: Ryan Lucas, NPR Justice correspondent, thank you very much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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