Former President Donald Trump announced his third bid for the White House Tuesday night, confirming he is running to be the Republican Party’s 2024 nominee despite the web of criminal and civil investigations encroaching him.
Beyond speculation about Trump’s chances in primaries that are more than a year away, his candidacy raises questions about the multiple investigations Trump remains embroiled in.
Here is what we know about how Trump’s campaign will impact those investigations.
What are the major investigations Trump is facing?
Despite a decades-long career marked by lawsuits over contract disputes, employment issues, and tax affairs, Trump has never faced the legal quagmire before him today. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched a criminal investigation into whether Trump allegedly removed or concealed potentially classified materials when he left office. And both DOJ and a House select committee are probing what role Trump played in the deadly attacks on the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has her own criminal probe into Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn election results.
In New York, New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump, his three adult children, the Trump Organization, and senior management in the company, alleging that they were involved in efforts to falsely inflate Trump’s assets by billions of dollars. James referred her findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service for criminal investigations, and is cooperating with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is in the midst of its own criminal probe into Trump’s business dealings.
Trump’s legal counsel did not respond to TIME’s request for comment for this story. He has denied all wrongdoing and decried all of the investigations into him as politically motivated.
Will Trump’s candidacy affect how prosecutors handle investigations against him?
Legal experts tell TIME that Trump’s campaign announcement does not change the legal procedures or legal requirements of any of the investigations he faces. “Otherwise, anyone could always simply announce they are running for [President] to get away with misconduct,” says Barbara McQuade, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Justice Department typically discourages investigative activities within 60 days of an election—and prosecutors are well outside of that window. Such a policy likely wouldn’t kick in until shortly before January 2024, when the first presidential primaries will be held, explains McQuade.
Practically speaking, on the other hand, Trump’s announcement could make investigators proceed more cautiously, says Stephen Binhak, a former federal prosecutor who served as associate counsel during Ken Starr’s investigation into former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. When considering whether to bring charges against Trump, Attorney General Merrick Garland is now even more likely to weigh “whether and how politics will [affect] the public’s perception of the fairness of the investigation and any charges, the likelihood that a jury will convict, and how a judge would sentence Mr. Trump if there is a conviction,” Binhak says.
But Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and a lecturer at Columbia Law School, says she thinks DOJ has already approached its investigations into the former President with such considerations. “He’s already being treated with kid gloves,” she says. “They’re being very cautious in the investigation.” Rodgers points out that while Trump hadn’t formally announced his candidacy until Tuesday night, the former President has informally been viewed as a 2024 contender since his loss to Joe Biden two years ago. For these reasons, she says, the announcement likely won’t change the approach of the various probes.
Does Trump’s candidacy affect how he covers his legal bills?
The Republican National Committee covered some of Trump’s legal bills while he was in office, and has continued to cover some of them during his post-presidency. Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, has said the committee would have to stop paying those bills if Trump launched a 2024 bid.
“We cannot pay legal bills for any candidate that’s announced,” McDaniel said on CNN this month, describing such payments as “in-kind contributions” to a candidate.
McDaniel said in the same interview that the RNC originally paid bills to defend Trump against an investigation pursued by James, the New York attorney general, because the committee considered it “a politically motivated investigation.”
Will a special counsel be appointed for federal investigations into Trump?
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that DOJ officials had privately discussed appointing a special counsel to take over the investigations involving Trump once he became a formal presidential candidate. But legal experts tell TIME that it would be an unwise decision. Special counsels are appointed to ensure the appearance of independence. But no matter who is selected for the role, Trump will argue the appointee is operating as a partisan, as he did with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, says McQuade.
The probe into the Capitol riots has already been going for nearly two years, McQuade adds, meaning that “DOJ does not see [Trump’s] potential nomination as a candidate against Biden as an obstacle.” And at this point, adding a special counsel could significantly delay the probes’ timelines. McQuade estimates DOJ is eyeing a deadline of early to mid-2023 for its investigations, possibly due to concerns that a potential Trump presidency would shut down an ongoing investigation, dismiss an indictment, or even issue a pardon.
Andrew Weissmann, the former chief of the fraud section in DOJ who served as a lead prosecutor in Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office, says that DOJ likely discussed appointing a special counsel back when it originally launched its investigations into Trump. Those discussions might be revisited with Trump’s campaign announcement, he adds. The standard for appointing a special counsel can be quite fluid, so it will come down to Garland’s discretion.
Rodgers says she hopes that Garland ultimately decides against it. “They should just keep doing what they’re doing,” she says, “which is everything they need to do, honestly, to make sure that this is all fair and above board.”
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