Examining the GOP-led effort to disqualify Donald Trump

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A top Republican election attorney has joined a growing coalition of individuals and organizations investigating whether former President Donald Trump can be disqualified from the ballot due to his involvement in inciting the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Jason Torchinsky, a partner at the Virginia-based law firm Holtzman Vogel, has been involved in discussions about the idea of disqualifying Trump with various individuals, including former elected Republican lawmakers, fellow election attorneys and a retired federal judge who has played a significant role in scrutinizing Trump's eligibility. The effort to block Trump has been a hot-button issue for some time. Several groups have filed lawsuits trying to block the former president from the 2024 presidential ballot, citing a provision in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to argue that Trump is disqualified from holding public office because of his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Now that one of the most prominent GOP election lawyers has joined the discussion, it makes the lawsuits "appear to be more politically neutral and much less a partisan effort by Democrats to keep Trump from running," Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon.

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Torchinsky also has ties to three of Trump's GOP primary opponents, doing "legal work for the campaigns of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, as well as for Never Back Down, the political action committee promoting the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis," The Washington Post reported. In this case, Torchinsky is researching the issue for Jacob Harriman, the founder of a nonpartisan service organization called More Perfect Union, Harriman told The Post.

"The 14th amendment disqualifies any person from holding any government office – federal or state – if they engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States or a state or assisted others who engaged in such conduct."

Most recently, a group of voters sued to kick Trump off the ballot in Minnesota and another filed a lawsuit in Colorado, marking the first high-profile legal case attempting to use the 14th Amendment to disrupt Trump's presidential campaign.

"The 14th amendment disqualifies any person from holding any government office – federal or state – if they engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States or a state or assisted others who engaged in such conduct," Gershman said. "Any person holding an official office, or who seeks such office, is disqualified."

Now that these cases have been filed, it would be up to the court to "determine the merits of the complaint," Gershman added.

Legal challenges have also been filed in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, among other states, and election officials anticipate the possibility of more suits as a growing number of liberal and conservative legal scholars express support for this legal strategy.

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Last month, two conservative law professors with ties to the right-wing Federalist Society published an article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review arguing that Trump doesn't qualify to be president. Professors William Baude of the University of Chicago and Michael Stokes Paulsen of the University of St. Thomas ​​studied the question for more than a year and arrived to the conclusion that Trump "cannot be president — cannot run for president, cannot become president, cannot hold office — unless two-thirds of Congress decides to grant him amnesty for his conduct on Jan. 6," The New York Times reported.

The Trump campaign on Tuesday sent a letter to New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan urging him not to remove Trump from the ballot for the GOP's first presidential primary.

"There is no legal basis for these claims to hold up in any legitimate court of law," the letter states. "The opinions of those perpetuating this fraud against the will of the people are nothing more than a blatant attempt to affront democracy and disenfranchise all voters and the former President."

The effort to disqualify Trump from seeking public office further complicates his 2024 campaign, as he is already facing four criminal prosecutions and multiple civil claims. These legal challenges include accusations of election interference, mishandling classified documents and falsifying business records linked to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

"Such lawsuits parallel the numerous convictions of the Jan. 6th defendants, especially those convicted of participating in an insurrection, such as convictions of several defendants for seditious conspiracy," Gershman said. "The lawsuit has very little direct connection to the indictments of Trump in DC and Georgia and even if a court disqualified Trump after finding that he participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, that finding could not be used as evidence in the upcoming trials as it would certainly be seen as irrelevant to those charges."

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