Could a Law Prohibiting Removal of Official Records Keep Donald Trump from Running in 2024?

·3 min read
Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images Donald Trump

The FBI's search of Donald Trump's home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday is raising questions about an investigation into the alleged mishandling of White House records by the former president — and whether he potentially committed a crime that could keep him out of the White House.

In February, the National Archives and Records Administration said in a statement that federal government officials had gone to Florida to retrieve 15 boxes of documents and other items from Trump — which the agency said should have been handed over at the end of his time in office.

According to the Presidential Records Act, created in the years following President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal, the president must preserve all records created during their tenure so that they can be handed over to the National Archives.

RELATED: Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home Searched by FBI: 'The Mood Was Pure Shock'

Before arriving at Trump's property on Monday, the FBI obtained a warrant, which signals that a judge or magistrate had to sign off on the search. To get that approval, law enforcement officials must show probable cause for conducting the search. That means there should be reasonable information to support the possibility that evidence of illegality will be found when the warrant is executed.

Mar-a-Lago resort
Mar-a-Lago resort

Joe Raedle/Getty Mar-a-Lago Club

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer.

That does not mean, however, that Trump is accused of a crime. The search is merely part of the Justice Department's ongoing investigation, which has not reached any conclusions.

For more on Donald Trump, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

But if a crime was committed by an elected official or someone who is planning to run, could that person be kept from serving?

RELATED: New Images Allegedly Support That Trump Would Flush Important Documents Down the Toilet as President

Trump has consistently teased plans to run for a second term in 2024. In a statement acknowledging the search of his property, Trump condemned it as an "attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for President in 2024."

Title 18 U.S. Code § 2071 states that anyone who "willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys" official government documents "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States."

That seems pretty clear, but it's not.

In a report about whether Trump could be barred from running for office if he is convicted of such a crime, The New York Times cites legal scholars who point out that the U.S. Constitution — not criminal law — sets the eligibility requirements for the presidency as well as how someone can be disqualified from holding the office through impeachment.

RELATED: What It Takes to Get a Federal Search Warrant Like the One the FBI Executed at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home

Prominent Democratic attorney Marc Elias called the search of Mar-a-Lago a "potential blockbuster in American politics" on Twitter, based on Title 18 U.S. Code § 2071.

But in a follow-up tweet, Elias acknowledged that the law is not cut and dry when it comes to presidents and presidential candidates.

"Yes, I recognize the legal challenge that application of this law to a president would garner (since qualifications are set in Constitution)," he wrote on Twitter. "But the idea that a candidate would have to litigate this is during a campaign is in my view a 'blockbuster in American politics.'"

RELATED VIDEO: People Are Sharing a 2016 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Tweet After FBI Searches Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort