Early reviews that the F.B.I. search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida associated to an investigation into whether or not he had unlawfully taken authorities information when he left the White House centered consideration on an obscure legal law barring removal of official information. The penalties for breaking that law embody disqualification from holding any federal workplace.
Because Mr. Trump is extensively believed to be making ready to run for president once more in 2024, that uncommon penalty raised the prospect that he would possibly be legally barred from returning to the White House.
Specifically, the law in query — Section 2071 of Title 18 of the United States Code — makes it a crime if somebody who has custody of authorities paperwork or information “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys” them.
If convicted, defendants can be fined or sentenced to jail for as much as three years. In addition, the statute says, if they’re presently in a federal workplace, they “shall forfeit” that workplace, and so they shall “be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
On its face, then, if Mr. Trump have been to be charged and convicted of eradicating, concealing or destroying authorities information beneath that law, he would appear to be ineligible to change into president once more.
But there was purpose for warning: The law briefly obtained a shut look in 2015, after it got here to mild that Hillary Clinton, then extensively anticipated to be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, had used a personal e-mail server to conduct authorities enterprise whereas secretary of state.
Some Republicans have been briefly entranced with whether or not the law might hold Mrs. Clinton out of the White House, together with Michael Mukasey, a former lawyer basic in the administration of George W. Bush. So was no less than one conservative think tank.
But in contemplating that state of affairs, a number of authorized students — together with Seth B. Tillman of Maynouth University in Ireland and Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles — famous that the Constitution units eligibility standards for who can be president, and argued that Supreme Court rulings suggest Congress can not alter them. The Constitution permits Congress to disqualify folks from holding workplace in impeachment proceedings, however grants no such energy for peculiar legal law.
Mr. Volokh later reported on his blog that Mr. Mukasey — who can also be a former federal decide — wrote that “upon reflection,” Mr. Mukasey had been mistaken and Mr. Tillman’s evaluation was “spot on.” (Mrs. Clinton was by no means charged with any crime associated to her use of the server.)
On Monday, one of the most distinguished voices pointing to Section 2071, the Democratic lawyer Marc Elias — who served as basic counsel for Mrs. Clinton’s marketing campaign — initially cited the law’s disqualification provision in a Twitter post as “the really, really big reason why the raid today is a potential blockbuster in American politics.”
He adopted up with one other Twitter put up acknowledging that any conviction beneath Section 2071 won’t in the end bar Mr. Trump from in search of the presidency once more — however arguing that a authorized combat over it would nonetheless be vital.
“Yes, I recognize the legal challenge that application of this law to a president would garner (since qualifications are set in Constitution),” he wrote. “But the idea that a candidate would have to litigate this is during a campaign is in my view a ‘blockbuster in American politics.’”