For months, it has been all but certain that former President Donald Trump was planning a political comeback. From the high-profile endorsements of Senate and Congressional candidates as we approach the November mid-terms to the packed campaign-style “Save America” rallies, Trump’s intentions have been obvious despite his reluctance to announce a new campaign officially.
Recent developments, however, may have given the former president pause.
After the FBI raided the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home, and as rumors swirl that the authorities are preparing to indict him, many of the former president’s most ardent supporters are now left wondering whether the Democrats may successfully stop him from running over the fear of being indicted.
What Indictment Means
Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the federal government is required to seek an indictment from a grand jury before prosecuting somebody for a felony.
An indictment typically comes before an arrest, and in some cases, it may be “sealed” to prevent the defendant from fleeing or evading justice.
When journalists talk about former President Trump being indicted, they are not, therefore, talking about the former president being arrested. Instead, they are referring to the process that comes before a possible arrest.
Can He Run?
So, if Trump has been indicted, can he run for office? The answer isn’t obvious.
While some believe that an indictment would stop the former president from running again in 2024, others say that there is nothing stopping him from running even if he is targeted by the authorities.
During an interview on Newsmax’s Greg Kelly Reports in August, lawyer Joe diGenova – who previously represented Trump’s presidential campaign – said that the former president can and will run for president in 2024 even if he is indicted.
DiGenova not only said that Trump would run even if he is indicted, he predicted that an indictment is coming.
“He is going to indict Donald Trump, they are going to figure out some charge because they want to harm him, to ruin him, to basically cut him off at the knees so he can’t run for president,” the former Trump campaign lawyer said, referencing Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“This process is arrogant, abusive, an affront to the Constitution. They are going to indict Donald Trump. Merrick Garland has lost his senses.”
Whoever has the correct legal argument on this may not matter, however.
As a former lawyer for the Trump campaign, deGenova’s opinion may well matter more to the former president than lawyers representing left-wing organizations, PACs, and activist groups – and legal proceedings designed to stop Trump from running could take longer than the campaign itself.
Some have also argued that even just the threat of an indictment may prevent the former president from announcing a presidential run, but that is obviously yet to be seen.
Indicted For What?
The media has had a field day with rumors that the former president could be indicted, arrested, and imprisoned. Rolling Stone published a report in July that painted a picture of criminality and abuse of the system within the Trump administration without providing any evidence that the former president broke the law.
“When Donald Trump formally declares his 2024 candidacy, he won’t just be running for another term in the White House,” the report reads. “He’ll be running away from legal troubles, possible criminal charges, and even the specter of prison time.”
What Rolling Stone, the rest of the establishment media, the Democrats, and even the Department of Justice can’t decide on, however, is precisely what the former president will be indicted for.
Among the accusations leveled against the former president is “theft” of government records. During the recent FBI raid of Trump’s Florida home, the authorities seized a multitude of documents, some of which included sensitive government information that the former president insists was declassified before he brought it home.
If the authorities move forward with charges based on this contested claim, it would raise questions about the actions of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who escaped indictment despite operating a private server that contained classified information.
Some also claim that the former president violated the Espionage Act by remaining in possession of documents that some claim were still classified, and which the former president claims were declassified. The argument, however, is flimsy. As Politico notes, “Trump isn’t a whistleblower or reporter or publisher.”
For this reason, there is no way that the former president could have violated the law, as he was not illegally in possession of documents to inform the public of government secrets or misconduct.
Will He Run in 2024?
Nobody knows – and the former president’s decision to refrain from announcing his next presidential campaign so far does not necessarily indicate that he has changed his mind.
Since the end of the last election, and since outgoing President Trump promised to return “in some form” to the White House, pundits, journalists, and voters have expected Trump to announce a third run for the White House. The only real question was when.
If Trump chooses to announce his candidacy before the November mid-terms, it would not only change how he can use his PAC money to support his chosen candidates – a quirk of American election funding laws – but also put the former president at risk. If Republican candidates underperform in November, Trump may be blamed and it could risk his chances in the 2024 presidential primaries.
It really is only a matter of time before we know whether the president intends to follow through on his plans to launch a new campaign, and given everything the former president has faced so far, the threat of an indictment doesn’t seem likely to stop him.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.