Donald Trump Is Now a Convicted Felon

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A jury in New York City found Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records stemming from a payment to keep adult film actress Stormy Daniels quiet about an alleged affair out of fear that it would hurt his chances of winning the 2016 election.

The jury began deliberating on Tuesday before returning the verdict Thursday afternoon. They were unanimous in their decision — which took them about 7.5 hours to reach — that Trump is guilty on all 34 counts on which he was charged.

The conviction comes in the heat of Trump’s third presidential campaign, which he has largely organized around the idea that President Joe Biden is masterminding a vast conspiracy to bring a series of criminal cases against him in order to hamstring his chances of winning back the White House. There’s no basis for the outlandish claim, which has been widely adopted by the Republican Party. Trump is the party’s presumptive presidential nominee and will debate Biden on CNN later this month.

Judge Juan Merchan set Trump’s sentencing for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention.

It’s unclear how the conviction will affect Trump’s chances of winning the election, but there’s no doubt that Thursday’s verdict and the former president’s other alleged criminal activity will continue to dominate the campaign season. Just as Trump was the first president to be criminally charged, he would be the first convicted felon to win the presidency, should he defeat Biden in November.

The hush-money case will almost certainly be the only one of the four criminal cases brought against Trump to go to trial before the election. The proceedings were eventful, to say the least.

Over the course of six tension-packed weeks, prosecutors used documents, texts, emails, voice recordings, and witness testimony to depict Trump and his circle’s mindset and actions leading up to and following the effort to silence Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team argued that Trump’s directives — namely to his former longtime fixer Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness in the case — pertaining to the hush-money payment were intended to influence the election and defraud American voters, and that the 2017 payment to reimburse Cohen was disguised in order to cover up a crime. The jury of seven men and five women deemed the prosecution’s arguments enough to find Trump guilty.

“We’ll never know if this effort to hoodwink the American voter made a difference in the 2016 election, but that’s not something we need to prove,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said in his closing argument on Tuesday. “The reimbursements to Cohen were cloaked in the conspiracy to promote the election, whether or not that conspiracy actually succeeded in tipping the scale.”

The saga that has now led to the first criminal conviction of a United States president began with Trump’s alleged affair with Daniels in 2006, before beginning to turn into something criminal as his first presidential campaign drew to a close. In early October 2016, the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced, depicting Trump boasting in 2005 how his celebrity status allows him to grope women and “grab them by the pussy.” Trump’s popularity with voters, specifically women, began to falter. Trump called his remarks “locker room talk,” a phrase Cohen attributed to Trump’s wife Melania during testimony.

Prosecutors portrayed a chaotic Trump campaign looking to mitigate the impact of the tape and prevent any other salacious stories from going public. One such story was Daniels’ account of her alleged affair with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament a decade earlier, just months after Trump’s son Barron was born. Cohen testified that Trump directed him to purchase Daniels’ life rights for $130,000 to prevent the story from coming to light. The payment was not disclosed as a campaign contribution, and Trump falsified 34 separate business records consisting of checks, ledgers, and invoices to cover up the payment, reimbursing Cohen for legal “services rendered.”

Trump and his team denied any wrongdoing, alleging Daniels has been lying about the affair and that the hush-money payment stemmed from a fear over how what they claim was a made-up story would impact Trump’s personal brand and his relationship with Melania.

The claims were largely dismantled — both by Daniels, whose much-anticipated testimony featured a detailed recounting of her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, and Cohen, who recalled a pivotal conversation he had with Trump in which the then-candidate ordered him to make the payment and joked he wouldn’t be on the “market” for long if the story got out and it meant the end of his marriage. “He wasn’t thinking about Melania, this was all about the campaign,” Cohen testified.

Trump’s team dedicated their closing argument on Tuesday to persuading the jury that Cohen was not trustworthy, with attorney Todd Blanche describing him as “literally like the MVP of liars.” Steinglass countered by pointing to all of the documentary evidence the prosecution produced. “The question is not whether you like Cohen,” he said. “It’s whether he has useful reliable information to give you about what went down in this case, and the truth is he was in the best position to know because he was the defendant’s right hand.”

The trial was every bit the circus one would have expected, with Trump airing a litany of complaints prior to and during the proceedings. He complained about the temperature in the courtroom, the sketch artists, and the lack of people visiting him. He dozed off on the first day of jury selection, and was spotted periodically nodding off for the rest of the trial. He was held in contempt for breaking a gag order prohibiting him from commenting on witnesses 10 times, with Merchan warning him that if he did so again he could wind up in jail. Trump repeatedly argued that he could not defend himself because of the gag order, while at the same time reneging on his promise to testify and set the record straight. Rolling Stone reported that Trump’s allies did not want him to testify, calling the prospect a horrible idea. The jury convicted him all the same.

Even the verdict seemed to be announced as a third-act twist. Just before 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Merchan announced he would dismiss the jurors. By 4:35 he instead informed the courtroom the jury had come to a verdict and would need some more time to fill out their required juror forms.

Trump’s relaxed demeanor immediately soured as soon as Merchan mentioned the arrival of a verdict. As the courtroom waited in silence for the jurors to announce the verdict, Trump sat stone-faced and crossed his arms while lawyers Blanche and Emil Bove leaned in and whispered to him. As the jury foreman responded “guilty” to each count, Trump unfolded his arms, rested them at his side, his face emotionless.

“You gave this matter the attention it deserved,” Merchan told the jurors concluded before dismissing them. Trump was the last to rise when jurors were dismissed.

The former president was not happy while speaking to reporters outside court following the verdict. “Our whole country is being rigged right now,” he ranted. “This was done by the Biden administration, in order to wound or hurt an opponent, a political opponent, and I think it is just a disgrace, and we will keep fighting, we will fight to the end and we will win.”

Bragg struck a different tone while thanking the “12 everyday jurors” for their service in a press conference later on Thursday. “While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial, and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as any other case that comes through the courtroom doors: by following the facts and the law, and doing so without fear or favor,” Bragg said.

Falsifying business records is usually a misdemeanor under New York law, but in this case the charges were class-E felonies, the lowest felony count in New York State, because there was an “intent to defraud” and it was done to “commit another crime or to aid or conceal” another crime — in this case, violations of election laws. Class-E felonies carry a maximum of four years in prison, although it’s rare for someone with no criminal history to be sentenced to prison for a nonviolent crime like the falsification of business records. Trump is more likely to face one to four years of probation instead.

The potential lack of prison time should not understate the severity of the landmark conviction. As the first former president in U.S. history to be charged criminally at either the state or federal level, and also the first former president to be convicted of a felony, Trump could face a rocky road both as he continues to campaign for president, with polls showing a criminal conviction would be a “disaster” for him. He could also face a rocky road as he tries to stay out of jail. He is no longer a first-time offender, and his new criminal history could bring greater sentences in any of his outstanding criminal cases.

Trump is certain to appeal the decision, but legal experts have pointed to Cohen’s witness testimony to act as a buffer for any appeals that may come forward. The merits of an appeal are substantially diminished given the jury was shown all 34 counts of fraudulent business records during the trial, providing real, tangible documents-based evidence that makes it difficult to dispute the jury’s finding.

Trump is facing criminal charges in three other cases. He was indicted in Georgia along with 18 others in August 2023 on charges of racketeering and conspiracy. The indictment stems from a two-year investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into the alleged effort to overturn Biden’s 2020 win in the state. Willis is currently appealing a March ruling that dismissed six of those charges.

In Florida, District Judge Aileen Cannon has indefinitely postponed the federal classified documents case against Trump earlier, citing numerous issues she has yet to resolve. She dismissed claims in late May from Trump’s legal team to dismiss the indictment due to it being a “personal and political attack” against Trump, who was indicted on 40 felony counts in the case.

Also at the federal level, Trump was indicted on four charges for his alleged actions leading up to the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan postponed the case until the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s claim to have presidential immunity in perpetuity for acts committed as president. Although the justices suggested they were likely to reject his claims of absolute immunity, some of the more conservative justices suggested they may limit how former presidents may be prosecuted.

Trump would be able to direct the Justice Department to drop the federal investigations if he defeats Biden, and Rolling Stone recently reported that he is scheming for ways to use the power of the presidency to quash the state-level cases, as well.

The question now is whether voters will give him the chance.

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