(NewsNation) — As the guessing game continues about what crime led the FBI to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, one thing that has gotten vastly overstated in the last 24 hours by talking heads and political pundits on both sides has been that one of the possible crimes could carry the possibility of preventing Trump from running for office again.
The reality? While that makes a great headline, it’s almost certainly not true.
Some on the left are rooting for Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute in the hope that their so-called savior of democracy can prevent Trump from running again. Some on the right are claiming it’s the hidden motive of the “corrupt, politicized” Justice Department and FBI.
And then there is the reality.
This really got amped up last night when prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, former general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, tweeted “the media is missing the really, really big reason why the raid today is a potential blockbuster in American politics” and pointed to Section 2071 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
It states: “whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same … shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
What we have heard about the DOJ investigation so far is that they were supposedly looking into whether Trump had unlawfully taken government files with him when he left the White House, so that tweet went viral.
And you had others, including attorney Harry Litman, backing it up. He said on MSNBC a short time later, “they may have decided to go after this, disqualify him from future office, secure a conviction, and have that be the broad resolution of the whole problem of Trump.”
That completely set off those on the right who were itching for any sort of evidence that the Democrats are “weaponizing” the Justice Department and FBI for their own political gain.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “He just kind of revealed what a lot of us think of the DOJ: Their entire strategy (is to) take Trump off the political playing field. He’s, like, salivating when he says this. To me, this is an open secret at this point.”
And Todd Piro on Fox Business Network said, “What other reason would you have other than to disqualify President Trump going forward for any political office?”
Yes, that specific statute says that one of the punishments is disqualifying someone from running for office. But no, it wouldn’t hold up. This simply is not something Congress can do.
The Constitution sets the criteria for who can run for the office of the president, not Congress. The only way Congress can bar or disqualify anyone from the presidency is by impeachment.
The Constitution lists only three things needed to be president: 35 years of age, a natural-born citizen, and a resident of the United States for 14 years. Previous Supreme Court rulings have blocked efforts to change qualifications for the House and Senate.
So, it stands to reason that if the statute in question here was invoked, the courts, and maybe the Supreme Court, would reject attempts to change what the Constitution expressly states about qualifications.