The issue isn’t going away, though. If Trump loses next November, he will return to private life, opening him up to criminal charges he was immune from as president. And former special counsel Robert Mueller has left a potential rap sheet in the form of a report with evidence that numerous legal experts argue constitutes criminal obstruction of justice.
So Democrats running for president are sure to be pressed on the loaded question: Will Trump face prosecution if you win?
Several candidates have already taken the plunge. In an NPR interview last week, California Sen. Kamala Harris said the Justice Department in her administration “would have no choice, and that they should” prosecute Trump if he no longer enjoys immunity from criminal indictment. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., also offered his thoughts last week, telling The Atlantic, “To the extent that there’s an obstruction case, then yes, DOJ’s got to deal with it.”
Politically, using Trump’s famous 2016 campaign mantra against him has its selling points. Candidates can stand out in a supersized field by speaking to the faction of the party’s base that already feels deflated by Democratic leaders’ refusal to launch impeachment proceedings and angry that Mueller declined to make a final judgment on whether Trump should face prosecution for obstructing justice.
“As the stakes get higher for the Democratic field and the nation, the incentives for many candidates is to up the rhetoric to woo the base, draw attention and win primary voters, debates and delegates,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden. “Where this all lands, who will go farthest and what gets proposed next is anyone’s guess, so each candidate has to sort through the dumpster fire of news every day, hoping their responses and their path to victory are the winning ones.”