Donald Trump found guilty on all counts in New York hush money trial

  • May 31, 2024
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NEW YORK — A New York jury on Thursday found Donald Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to an adult-film actress, delivering a historic verdict that could shape the November election and that makes Trump the first former U.S. president convicted of a crime.

The verdict is an extraordinary loss for the presumptive GOP nominee, who delivered near-daily tirades outside the courtroom throughout the trial — excoriating the justice system and declaring his innocence.

Twelve jurors, whose names were shielded by the judge from public view, spent a little more than a day weighing the felony counts against Trump before returning their judgment unanimously saying otherwise.

Trump, 77, faces a maximum sentence of 1⅓ to four years in prison after being deemed a felon in the city where he first rose to prominence. Given his age and lack of a prior criminal record, he could serve a shorter sentence or no term of incarceration at all.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan scheduled the former president’s sentencing for July 11 — just days before the start of the Republican National Convention, where Trump is set to be formally nominated by his party.

The verdict propels the country into unprecedented territory, and its impact will reverberate across U.S. politics in the coming months. While awaiting his sentence, Trump will continue to campaign to reclaim the White House. Trump, who has been charged in three other criminal cases, is expected to appeal the New York verdict; neither the conviction nor any sentence he may receive prevents him from serving as president.

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After the verdict was read, Trump was told he could go free without bail. He turned to his son, Eric, and the two shared a stern handshake before Trump left the courtroom with a grimace, his face flushed. While Eric and his brother, Donald Trump Jr., attended multiple days of their father’s trial, former first lady Melania Trump and the former president’s daughter Ivanka stayed away.

Outside the courtroom, Trump again declared himself innocent, calling the trial “a disgrace” and falsely insisting that the case was driven by President Biden, his opponent in the Nov. 5 election.

“This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt,” Trump said. “The real verdict is going to be November 5, by the people, and they know what happened here.”

The conviction is a major victory for Manhattan prosecutors, who brought a local case with immense national implications even after their federal counterparts declined to seek an indictment against Trump in the matter years earlier.

“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 every other case that comes through the courtroom doors,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), the elected prosecutor whose office brought the case, said after the verdict, “by following the facts and the law, and by doing so without fear or favor.”

Asked about legal commentators and analysts who questioned the indictment — with some calling it the weakest of four criminal prosecutions facing Trump — Bragg said there was only one group whose view of the case ultimately mattered.

“Today, we have the most important voice of all,” Bragg said at a news conference, delivering his first extended public remarks about the trial since it began. “And that’s the voice of the jurors.”

The trial, which began in mid-April, hinged on a $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who alleged a sexual encounter with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 2006. Trump denies they had sex.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s onetime attorney and fixer, paid Daniels on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to keep her from publicly sharing her claims of a tryst. Cohen was then given monthly reimbursement payments from Trump that were recorded as legal fees in documents maintained by Trump’s company. Prosecutors say classifying the payments as legal fees was criminal.

Prosecutors accused Trump of overseeing “a long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.” The government’s complex theory of the case was built on interlocking alleged criminal violations, and jurors were given a convoluted set of instructions as a result.

Defense attorneys argued that monthly $35,000 payments made to Cohen in 2017 were in fact compensation for legal services and that the classification of the business records was correct. The defense team also took blistering aim at Cohen, the prosecution’s key witness who has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, including lying to Congress.

“You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the words of Michael Cohen,” defense lawyer Todd Blanche had told jurors.

Cohen told jurors that he was acting at Trump’s direction in arranging the Daniels payment. He was the only witness to testify that his former boss was directly involved. Defense attorneys subjected Cohen to brutal cross-examination, accusing him of lying on the stand and painting him as singularly focused on seeing Trump punished.

Blanche said after the verdict that it appeared jurors accepted Cohen’s testimony despite his attempts to convince them otherwise.

“At the end of the day, it remains true that if the word of Michael Cohen was not accepted at all, then you could not have convicted President Trump,” Blanche said on CNN a few hours after the verdict was reached. “And the jury convicted. So at the end of the day, they looked past what we thought were fatal flaws in Mr. Cohen’s story and his past, and they reached a guilty verdict.”

He also said he did not believe New York was “a fair place” to put Trump on trial.

Concerns about Cohen’s credibility were part of the reason federal prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Trump in connection with the hush money payment years earlier, according to people familiar with the decision who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

But Bragg’s office continued scrutinizing the issue. The hush money allegations had been known around his office as the “zombie” case because for years, it seemed lifeless without truly dying. Last year, a Manhattan grand jury took the historic step of voting to indict Trump, the first of four times he was charged in a span of about five months.

The verdict Thursday was Trump’s latest legal defeat in a New York court since last year. He lost two civil cases to the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of battery and defamation, and was ordered to pay her nearly $90 million; he is appealing. He was also hit with nearly half a billion dollars in penalties following a civil fraud lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), though he was allowed to post a lower bond while appealing that decision.

And Trump faces criminal cases in Florida, Georgia and D.C. — though due to appeals and pretrial motions, it is quite possible none of them will go to trial before Election Day.

The jury in Manhattan was tasked with deciding whether Trump was guilty on each specific count of falsifying business records and whether he did so in an effort to unlawfully impact an election. Prosecutors offered three types of underlying crimes that could raise the unlawful election-meddling allegation; jurors did not have to be unanimous about which of those they felt was at play.

A jury of seven men and five women — seated during a week-long selection process in April — began deliberations Wednesday and, within hours, said they wanted to hear part of the trial testimony and some of Merchan’s instructions repeated to them. After that happened Thursday morning, the jurors retreated to the jury room to continue deliberations.

Attorneys were preparing to leave court for the day at 4:30 p.m. without a verdict and return Friday morning. Then a note from the jury room arrived.

“We the jury have a verdict,” the note said.

Trump and his legal team then spent an agonizing half-hour waiting while the panel filled out the lengthy jury form.

Jurors looked solemn as they filed into the jury box to reveal their verdict. All eyes in the courtroom were on the jury foreman as he rose from his seat to deliver their findings count by count. After he repeated “guilty” 34 times, once for each count, the jurors were individually polled by the clerk to confirm they were unanimous.

Trump watched them, frowning, his hands resting on his lap.

Merchan then thanked the jurors for their work, saying they had “a very stressful and difficult task.” He also told them that they were now free to discuss the case but did not have to.

They filed out of court a short while later, walking one final time in front of Trump. As usual, they looked forward but not directly at him.

Bragg left the courtroom. His trial team, all smiles, remained for several minutes, holding their transcripts and other materials.

The jury had deliberated for about 11 hours across two days, including the time spent hearing testimony and instructions repeated Thursday.

“The speed with which this verdict was returned is shocking,” particularly given the legal complexity of the case, said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.

“It signals that despite the doubts raised by the defense about the credibility of Michael Cohen, the jury viewed this as an overwhelming case for prosecutors and there was little dissent among jurors about this outcome,” he said.

During the trial, witness testimony frequently veered into sordid territory, offering an expansive education about tabloid practices as well as how famous, powerful people work to keep scandalous stories and allegations hidden.

Daniels testified in graphic detail about what she said happened between her and Trump in 2006, when they met at a celebrity golf tournament. She described what sounded at times like a nonconsensual sexual encounter with him, leading his attorneys to unsuccessfully call for a mistrial.

Trump ultimately did not take the stand — an unlikely scenario, but one he publicly insisted was on the table throughout the proceedings.

Instead, he frequently pilloried the case on his way in and out of court, often castigating Merchan and Bragg.

Merchan had issued a gag order prohibiting Trump from commenting on witnesses or jurors in the case. He ruled that Trump violated the gag order 10 different times and twice found him in contempt of court, warning that jail time could follow if that continued.

Inside the courtroom, Trump could be a passive figure and closed his eyes while witnesses testified, leading to speculation that he had dozed off — something that he denies. Other times, he glowered or appeared angry, including when Daniels testified, leading Merchan to tell Trump’s lawyer the former president was “cursing audibly” and needed to stop.

In the trial’s final stretch, Trump was accompanied to the Manhattan courthouse by a rotating entourage of political allies and supporters, who sat behind him in the courtroom and appeared before cameras in a nearby park to denounce and question the trial.

Some of those allies pilloried the outcome Thursday. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) called it “a shameful day in American history,” while House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) decried what he called “radical partisan Democrats behind this abuse of power.”

Biden’s campaign said in a statement that the verdict showed “no one is above the law,” while noting that Trump would still be on the ballot in November.

If Trump wins that election, he would regain the presidency’s broad power to grant pardons. He could not, however, pardon himself, because he was convicted Thursday in state court. Presidents can only grant clemency on federal charges.

Berman reported from Washington. Marianne LeVine in Washington contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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