But the most significant impediment to holding a president accountable to justice is the statute of limitations. Generally, most federal crimes must be charged within five years or forever be barred. For crimes committed while the president is in office, there will be time enough at the end of the president’s term. But if a president engaged in financial crimes before taking office, or committed crimes to gain that office, the time for charging those crimes could well expire before his or her term concluded.
That is one of the reasons a grand jury should be permitted to indict a sitting president, as long as all further proceedings are postponed while he or she is in office. Unless an indictment could issue against a sitting president, there would be a perverse incentive for an alleged White House felon to seek reelection simply to avoid indictment while waiting for the statute of limitations to expire on crimes he had committed. The history of the Justice Department’s conflicting positions on this question does not categorically foreclose issuing an indictment against a sitting president.