When Presidential Nominees Are Arrested

Right now, we are living through an election in which this is a question that people are sincerely googling: "What happens if a presidential nominee is arrested?" Both parties have candidates who have had their fair share of lawsuits and/or investigations over the years, so it's not as if there aren't reasons people are asking and wondering what would happen if their concerns materialize.

Hillary Clinton's "damn emails" almost got her indicted, which would have made things interesting for the Democratic Party. While serving as secretary of state, Clinton kept a private email server for mixed personal and state emails. Not only was it a violation of the Federal Records Act, but many were concerned that it potentially exposed classified information. In the end, FBI Director James Comey decided her actions were not fit for her to be charged with a crime. It's worth mentioning, though, that his decision came after Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the figure ultimately responsible for the candidate's fate, had a conversation with Bill Clinton in a Phoenix airport, which not only raised red flags but which both have said they regretted.

The closest Donald Trump has come to actually being arrested for happenings during his campaign was in March, when there was a public petition for his arrest arguing that his inflammatory rhetoric was dangerous to the public. It garnered more than 100,000 signatures and specifically asked the Obama administration to arrest Trump. The document cited the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio to support the plea — an important case in arguing the boundaries of the First Amendment.


But in the event that an arrest or indictment was successful, in both major party committees, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, it all depends on whether the candidate would then choose to step down. When asked about Clinton's candidacy if she had been indicted over her private server, Michael Mukasey, who served as Attorney General under George W. Bush, told The Washington Examiner, "There's no legal reason why she'd have to drop out." If a nominee chooses to step down or dies, the party has the right to replace the candidate one of two ways: by having another convention or having the national committee choose a new candidate.

There's one more step, though, which often goes overlooked: printing the ballots. Considering both candidates have accepted the nominations, their names have been printed on the physical forms, and there are rules concerning access to ballots after they've been printed. These deadlines vary depending on the individual states. One of the earliest states to shut down access is North Carolina, on Aug. 5. Other states, like Alaska, have more time, and can make changes up until Sept. 21. Even if a party could then find a new candidate to be on the ballot, it would almost certainly spell defeat to have to replace a candidate due to an arrest — especially this late in the presidential game.