When Donald Trump officially declares his candidacy for 2024, he will not only be running for another term in the White House. He’ll be running from legal troubles, possible criminal charges, and even the specter of jail time.
In recent months, Trump has made it clear to staffers that legal protections for the Oval Office occupation are his top priority, say four people with knowledge of the situation Rolling Stone.
Trump has “talked about how difficult it is for politically motivated prosecutors to get to you when you’re the President of the United States,” says one of the sources who raised the issue with Trump this summer. “He says when [not if] When he’s president again, a new Republican administration will put a stop to it [Justice Department] Investigations he sees as the Biden administration working to criminalize him — or even jail him and his people.”
Presidential immunity and the election of his own attorney general aren’t the only reasons Trump is running again. And while he works on another run, Trump is in a tug-of-war with leaders and activists in his own party over when to announce that, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The former president is motivated to announce this early – before Election Day 2022 – in hopes of clearing the field of key contenders. But GOP leaders, including some of Trump’s closest advisers, don’t want him to explain his intentions ahead of the midterm elections. The GOP wants voters to focus on President Joe Biden instead of turning the contest into a referendum on Trump. For the past few months, Trump has reluctantly agreed to hold off, only to return shortly thereafter with the threat of making an announcement anytime soon, either out of self-interest, defiance, or a combination of both.
But when Trump talks about running, the four sources say, he leaves those familiar with the impression that as his criminal vulnerability rises, he’s also focused on legal protections for law enforcement.
Not only liberal wish-makers or Trump critics recognize the legal endangerment of the former president. Trump’s teams of lawyers and former senior administration officials talk about it often. “I think prosecution is possible … for Trump and [former White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows certainly,” said Ty Cobb, a former top Trump White House attorney, bluntly Rolling Stone late last month.
Trump himself appears to be acknowledging potential problems. He “said something like: ‘[prosecutors] I couldn’t get away with it while I was president,'” recalled another of the four sources. “It was during a larger discussion of the investigation, other possible 2024 [primary] Candidates and what people were saying about the January 6 hearings… He went on for a few minutes about how ‘some very corrupt’ people want to ‘put me in jail’.”
The presidency’s powers would provide a welcome respite to the various civil lawsuits and criminal investigations now hanging over Trump. It’s unclear if the Justice Department will indict Trump in connection with fomenting the Jan. 6 riot, but victory in the White House would be extremely helpful to him. Department policy prohibits criminal prosecution of an incumbent president and effectively isolates Trump from all federal charges for another four years.
The law is less clear about whether states can prosecute a president while in office, but any attempt to try Trump in a state case would likely go to the Supreme Court. Former New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s effort to subpoena Trump’s tax returns ended up in the High Court in 2020.
At the state level, Trump faces two criminal investigations. In Manhattan, District Attorney Alvin Bragg set up a grand jury to investigate whether the former president committed fraud by allegedly lying about the value of his assets in financial statements. However, the grand jury has since expired, and there is little evidence that Bragg intends to pursue charges. In Georgia, Fulton County prosecutors are investigating whether Trump illegally interfered with the vote count by pressuring Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes for him after the election. Just this month, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis subpoenaed Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsay Graham and sent letters to pro-Trump Georgia state senators warning that they could be prosecuted as part of the case could be tracked.
Trump faces a number of lawsuits, both for his conduct in office and before. In previous cases, Trump’s attorneys have claimed the president’s office renders him immune from civil charges while sitting. That was Trump’s defense in a now-dismissed lawsuit filed by ex apprentice Candidate Summer Zervos.
In the 1990s, Paula Jones’ lawsuit against then-President Clinton established that presidents do not enjoy absolute immunity. But the Zervos lawsuit against Trump dragged on for five years before she dropped it. The case showed that the presidency can help delay civil lawsuits, even if this is not an insurmountable obstacle.
Trump’s recent legal headache stems from his role in instigating the January 6 insurrection. Capitol and Washington, DC police officers have sued Trump for the physical and emotional harm they suffered during the riots. The former president also faces two separate lawsuits from Democratic congressmen. The lawsuits allege that the president violated his civil liberties by conspiring with extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to prevent the election vote from being counted.
E. Jean Carroll is still pursuing a case against Trump for defamation. She has accused Trump of raping her at a store in the mid-1990s and is suing over his 2019 claim that Carroll “totally lied.” The Justice Department has claimed under both Trump and Biden that Trump is immune from the lawsuit because he was “acting within the limits of his office” when he made the allegations. A federal appeals court is currently considering the department’s arguments.
And in New York, Attorney General Letitia James is leading a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization lied about the value of its assets.
The suits add pressure to Trumpworld as the Jan. 6 Committee and Justice Department investigations intensified. A number of Trump aides have been embroiled in a federal grand jury investigation into efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. The investigation has revealed search warrants served on Trump’s campaign attorney, John Eastman, and the Justice Department and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark.
In light of the investigation, many at Trumpworld have hoped former aides to efforts to overthrow the election could be prosecuted in the former president’s stead. Trump associates in particular have tried to distance him from Eastman. And how Rolling Stone As reported last week, Trump’s legal advisers also see former chief of staff Mark Meadows as a potential caseman for the former president’s post-election activities.