A U.S. president currently holding office becomes an ordinary citizen once he or she steps down from said government position. Once out of the Oval Office, an ex-president can be indicted if further investigations of any purported wrongdoings during his tenure as president of the United States, draw further evidence that he or she is guilty of having committed related criminal acts.
This legal matter cropped up last July 24, 2019, after former FBI head Robert Mueller testified in a 7-hour long Congressional hearing. To queries raised by lawmakers regarding the culpability of Trump, former Special Counsel Mueller testified that Donald Trump could be charged once he is no longer in office.
Key Points to Consider about Mueller’s Testimony
The former FBI head made it clear that:
Trump could be indicted to face charges after he leaves office, which is quite different from the Democrats’ general analysis that the Mueller Report provides basis for filing impeachment charges against Donald Trump.
Even before he answered questions, the former FBI head had made it clear that in the Mueller Report, which read as ”we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime,” did not mean exoneration of any misdeeds that seemingly involved Donald Trump.
Robert Mueller testified that according to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)) of the Department of Justice, a prosecutor cannot file charges against a sitting president. The main reasons for this ruling include deference for impeachment proceedings, and the need to keep the head of the government, free from distractions while performing important duties.
Still, the ruling also states that the prosecutor can continue the investigation to determine if other persons, including the president, might be involved in an established conspiracy; such as the proven case of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
Legal Experts Confirm Mueller’s Testimony
The website Punditfact referred the aforesaid matter to legal experts who gave the following opinion:
Mark Osler, a Law Professor at the University of St. Thomas.agreed with Mueller, saying that
Once a president is out of office, both deference to impeachment and the need to avoid distraction from his or her important duties as chief executive, evaporate as primary reasons to avoid prosecution.”
Josh Chafetz, a Law Professor at Cornell University likewise agreed with Mueller; stating that
”Arguments based on the supposed position of the president at the top of the prosecutorial hierarchy, also lose force for former presidents
Diane Marie Amann, a Law Professor at the University of Georgia voiced the same opinion; pointing out the line in the Justice Department ruling that says the prohibition to indict a sitting president fades, when he or she leaves office.
Statute of Limitations Applicable to the Ruling on Indictment of Ex-Presidents
If continuing investigations into alleged criminal acts provide basis for indicting a former president, any charges filed against that ex-president must be made within five (5) years. This is in line with the Statute of Limitations applicable to federal charges of obstruction of justice filed by a government administration against a former U.S. president.
However, the statutes have exceptions to which Congress can in theory, extend the time limit to prosecute the former chief executive. Still, if the present administration of the government chooses not to file charges within 5 years, then that former head of state becomes exempt from prosecution.