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Donald Trump running for president if indicted would be absurd but legal

A criminally charged candidate would be many things, but unlawful isn't one of them.


Donald Trump said over the weekend that he won’t drop out of the 2024 presidential race if he’s indicted. It's a hypothetical but likely scenario — and it's one that would be completely legal.

Indeed, there are three requirements to run for president under the Constitution, and none of them refer to criminal charges. Article II, Section 1 reads:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

There’s even some historical precedent for a more serious criminal situation than indictment. Eugene Debs unsuccessfully ran for president in 1920 while not only charged but convicted and imprisoned. (In what may hit a little too close to home for Trump, Debs was charged under the Espionage Act and served time in Georgia.)

To be sure, unprecedented issues could arise if and when Trump is charged while attempting to again run the government that he tried to overthrow in claiming the 2020 election was stolen. And Trump's actions leading up to and during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection raise questions about whether he could take office under the 14th Amendment, Section 3, which states in part:

No person shall . . . hold any office . . . under the United States . . . who, having previously taken an oath . . . as an officer of the United States . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

And a potential conviction in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe could prompt arguments about disqualification from office under federal law, yet those three constitutional requirements — natural born citizenship, residency and age — may still be the only things needed to run for president.

For now, however, when it comes to the simple matter, absurd as it sounds, of whether criminal charges alone would legally prevent Trump or anyone else from running for president, the answer is no.