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Recently there have been rumors that the Manhattan DA is going to indict Donald Trump for campaign finance violations over paying hush money to Stormy Daniels. The word "unprecedented" is often used to describe this potential arrest of a former President.

But is it the indictment that's unprecedented, or the fact that the former President committed such a serious offense in the first place?

The only one in my lifetime I can think of is Nixon, but Ford preemptively pardoned him so he couldn't be indicted.

EDIT (after Raveesh's answer, because I realized I wasn't clear):

To keep this tractable, let's limit it to US laws. International law opens up a large can of worms due to opinions about whether military actions constitute war crimes.

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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Unfortunately the end note about Lets limit this to US law was added after my answer. As I pointed out to OP this violates SE principles. So I hope he will restore it to the original form. A US president has never been indited is just a google away
    – user44167
    Mar 22, 2023 at 16:28
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Impeachment isn't a legal issue. Several other Presidents have been impeached, so obviously that's not "unprecedented" (although 2 impeachments of Trump was a new record).
    – Barmar
    Mar 22, 2023 at 18:20
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    @Fizz I'm pretty sure none were ever indicted. So the question is whether there were Presidents who could have been indicted, but prosecutors chose to give them a pass. Assuming Trump is indicted, he might have a legitimate claim that he's being singled out for political reasons.
    – Barmar
    Mar 22, 2023 at 23:54
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    Okay, so to make this answerable by something other than speculation/opinion on who could have been indicted but wasn't, I suppose the only real criterion is that some DA said they considered it? Mar 23, 2023 at 0:06
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    A nitpick in the realm of language precision: Trump wasn't yet president when the Stormy Daniels payments were made, much less former president. If evidence arose that George W Bush had committed bribery in his business career in the 1970s, would that count? Would the treason committed by the first few presidents against the king of Great Britain count?
    – phoog
    Mar 24, 2023 at 10:40

1 Answer 1

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We know that at least two recent presidents committed felonies.

We have Richard Nixon, who Obstructed Justice as he tried to thwart the investigation into the Watergate burglaries. Nixon was also an Accessory After the Fact to those Burglaries, and he could also have been charged with Conspiracy as he was paying the burglars to be quiet. There are a whole slew of other crimes related to Watergate but those are the highlights for which Nixon could have been indicted

  • When all of these facts came to light, Nixon resigned from the presidency, and was pardoned a month later (likely part of the agreement for him to go quietly).

We also have Bill Clinton, who in 1998 committed Grand Jury Perjury and Obstructed Justice when he lied about an affair in a sworn affidavit. Clinton was impeached for this lie, but Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.

  • Subsequent to the acquittal, Clinton was cited for Contempt of Court and fined $90,000. Clinton was also investigated by the Arkansas bar and in a plea deal had his law license suspended for 5 years. Clinton also agreed to another plea deal with the special counsel Robert Ray paying a $25,000 fine to avoid indictments.
  • Clinton could have quite easily been indicted once he left office had he not agreed to those plea deals. While opinions differ on whether Clinton got off easy or not for lying in a sworn affidavit about sex, a 5 year law license suspension is pretty hefty. Just consider, Jimmy McGill broke into his brother's house, destroyed evidence, and assaulted his brother, and Mr. Better Call Saul lost his license for just 1 year!

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There are plenty of conspiracy theories, some of which I believe, about Ronald Reagan and George W Bush committing felonies, but there is no hard evidence about either. George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter kept their noses pretty clean, while Barack Obama avoided scandal like the plague during his stay in the White House.

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    The question already mentions Nixon and his pardon, but Clinton is a good answer.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 24, 2023 at 9:48
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    5 year law license suspension is pretty hefty -- is it much of a punishment if you don't plan on acting as a lawyer? It seems like mainly a symbolic act, perhaps with a little impact on reputation, but he doesn't seem to have suffered much.
    – Barmar
    Mar 24, 2023 at 16:44
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    Would Reagan's conspiracy theories likely be related to Iran Contra?
    – Barmar
    Mar 24, 2023 at 16:45
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    I got the joke, but the obvious difference is that Jimmy wanted to be a lawyer, while Clinton had long ended his legal career. It's kind of like being sentenced to house arrest when you live in a lavish mansion.
    – Barmar
    Mar 24, 2023 at 16:54
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    @Barmar Iran Contra is one possibility. Did Reagan know? If he did that was a felony. Another is the Iran Embassy Hostages who were released an hour after Reagan was inaugurated. Carter tried hard to negotiate a release before the election but Iran chose to wait till Reagan was in office. Then Reagan covertly sells arms to Iran in spite of the 2 countries being enemies. There are a few conspiracy theories out there claiming that Regan's 1980 election campaign cut a deal with Iran to stymie Carter's efforts. If true, that's treason.
    – Special_K
    Mar 24, 2023 at 16:56

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