Third, some enterprising federal prosecutor might think to avoid these political nettles by bringing an indictment for something that has nothing to do with the Trump administration or campaign. Surely, there’s some federal crime—money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy against the United States, take your pick—of which Trump was guilty long before he descended the golden escalator.
There are a few problems with this, too. The federal statute of limitations generally runs for five years. Trump’s presidential campaign formally launched on June 16, 2015. Filing charges after the end of Trump’s term for conduct committed before his campaign would therefore be difficult if not impossible.
That’s on top of the problem of treating every president like Al Capone. There are more federal crimes on the books than anyone has ever been able to count. Even the Justice Department gave up when it tried to tally them all in 1982. If a prosecutor wanted to pour the time and resources into charging a particular person with some federal crime, chances are they could find one. Harvey Silvergate of the CATO Institute estimated in 2009 that the average person unwittingly commits three federal felonies every day. One can only imagine what the average might be for politicians. Somehow finding a pretext to prosecute former politicians doesn’t smack of a well-functioning republic any more that unearned clemency does.