Rachel Maddow asks whether Trump should be offered a plea deal trading the threat of jail time for his agreeing to never hold public office again. Ron Liebman Barney Skolnik, and Russell “Baker, the assistant US attorneys in the Spiro Agnew case, answer as if such a deal is possible. 25:13

If Trump were to strike a bargain that includes terms that he not run for public office again, what would actually stop him from continuing his presidency campaign?

If his campaign did officially cease operations, what would stop him from campaign-like behaviors while claiming not to be running, but potentially being elected via write-ins?

What would stop him from being included on ballots anyway?

Agnew resigned as VP (1973), but I don't see specific details about his plea bargain. Even if the plea bargain did include terms not to run for public office, I still don't see what would have stopped him from running aside from public sentiment.

What would give such an agreement power? Who would enforce it?

Debs (1920) and LaRouche (1992) ran for president from prison. This doesn't answer my question, but informs what could happen without a plea deal and Trump is convicted.

  • 6
    I think having a plea deal include "not running for office" would be highly problematic, and be seen as a prosecutor interfering with the will of the people. Jul 6, 2023 at 17:02
  • Yeah, judicial bans on opposition leaders campaigning are something you see fairly often, but never in a country in the top half of the CPI.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 7, 2023 at 10:54

1 Answer 1


This is a bit like asking "what would happen if someone takes a plea deal to go to prison for x years and then just doesn't go?"

Plea bargains don't include any voluntary agreements to do or not do something, precisely because they could not be legally enforced without violating the double-jeopardy rule. A plea bargain means that the defendant will plead guilty, and in exchange receive a conviction from the court with no more than the legal punishments they agreed to.

One of those agreed upon punishments might bar them from running for a public office. Which is then part of the sentencing. It means that they don't have to promise to not run for office, they are legally prohibited from doing so. Which means it would not be allowed for any voting commission to put their name on the ballot, and any write-in vote cast in their name would be invalid.

However, a court might not be legally allowed to inflict any punishment it wants. For example, the criminal law might not allow them to punish a defendant by revoking their passive election rights. In that case, such punishments are usually implemented through a probation clause. For example, the defendant receives a prison sentence for x years on probation, and that probation has a term that the defendant must not run for a public office for y years. If they do, then they would have violated their probation terms. Which means that they would have to go to prison for x years.

  • 4
    Do courts have the authority to sentence someone to not run for president?
    – xyldke
    Jul 6, 2023 at 10:30
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    @xyldke That's more of a question for law stack exchange, but if they don't, then that can not be part of a plea deal either.
    – Philipp
    Jul 6, 2023 at 10:32
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    "Which means it would not be allowed for any voting commission to put their name on the ballot..." says who exactly? I mean a plea bargain is binding to the parties of that agreement, but in this particular, present-day anything-goes, no-holds-barred, norms-are-out-the-window US, who exactly is in charge of and empowered to not allowing (i.e. preventing? blocking?) the commissions from putting them on the ballot regardless of some plea agreement?
    – uhoh
    Jul 6, 2023 at 10:51
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    @uhoh, well, if an election commission ignores their states election law and puts people onto the ballot who by law are not allowed to run, then that election might later be declared void by a court.
    – Philipp
    Jul 6, 2023 at 11:19
  • 5
    If someone is sentenced to a suspended sentence or probation, they can be given conditions they must fulfil to avoid going to jail. But I don't know if that applied to Agnew.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 6, 2023 at 13:00

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