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Watchdog Says 14th Amendment, Not Indictments, Can Bar Trump From Presidency

Trump’s indictments don’t “necessarily disqualify him … but the Constitution’s 14th Amendment does,” CREW said.

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks on June 10, 2023, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

On Monday morning, a nonprofit government watchdog organization called out former President Donald Trump, implying that his actions in the final weeks of his presidency should disqualify him from serving in any office again.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wrote in a tweet that while there isn’t a federal law barring former presidents from running for office if they’ve been indicted of a crime, a constitutional amendment does bar some people from running if they’ve engaged in or encouraged others to participate in an insurrection.

“Donald Trump has been indicted twice,” CREW said in its tweet, referring to Trump’s federal indictment last week alleging that he mishandled sensitive government documents after leaving the White House, as well as his indictment in New York state court alleging that he used hush money payments in furtherance of criminal action. “That doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from serving as president, but the Constitution’s 14th Amendment does.”

The third clause of the 14th Amendment states that no person who has “previously taken an oath…to support the Constitution of the United States” may serve in office again if they have “engaged in insurrection” against the country, or “given aid or comfort” to those who did. How this provision may be enforced is left ambiguous, but it’s widely assumed a court action declaring someone an insurrectionist would suffice.

It’s possible that another Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, relating to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, could include insurrectionist charges against the former president. However, CREW and its president, Noah Bookbinder, have previously promised to file a lawsuit against Trump in order to block him from running.

Many political observers have described the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — which began moments after Trump delivered an incendiary speech to his followers outside the White House — as an “insurrection,” as its aim was to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election. Under this line of argument, Trump’s speech could feasibly be seen as giving “aid” to those who attacked the Capitol.

In a letter directed to Trump in late 2022, Bookbinder promised that he and CREW would block Trump from running in the 2024 presidential election, “based on [his] engaging in the insurrection that culminated on January 6, 2021.”

“The evidence that you engaged in insurrection as contemplated by the Fourteenth Amendment — including by mobilizing, inciting, and aiding those who attacked the Capitol — is overwhelming,” Bookbinder told Trump.

So far, such a lawsuit has not yet materialized, even as Trump has been on the campaign trail for the GOP nomination.

Although CREW rightfully pointed out that indictments cannot prevent a person from running for the presidency, a majority of Americans think Trump should be disqualified from office if he’s convicted.

Fifty-two percent of Americans believe Trump has committed a serious crime at some point in his life, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted at the end of May. Furthermore, 62 percent of the poll’s respondents said that being found guilty of a serious crime — including being indicted for mishandling secretive government records — should disqualify a person from the presidency. Just 23 percent said that if Trump is indeed convicted it shouldn’t prevent him from running for president.

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