Donald Trump found guilty on all counts in ‘hush money’ trial

A New York jury has found Donald Trump guilty of 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 makes Trump the first former U.S. president convicted of a crime.

The presumptive GOP nominee delivered near-daily tirades outside the courtroom during the seven-week trial, excoriating the justice system and declaring his innocence. The 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 saying otherwise.

Trump faces a maximum sentence of 1⅓ to four years in prison. Given his age and his 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.

While awaiting his sentence, Trump will continue to campaign to reclaim the White House after being deemed a felon in the city where he first rose to prominence. 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.

But the conviction is nevertheless an extraordinary loss for Trump, one that will reverberate through politics and the upcoming presidential election. It is also 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.

Trump left the courtroom with a grimace following the verdict, his face flushed. Merchan said he could remain free without bail.

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 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 that 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 a series of 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 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,” Blanche told jurors.

Cohen told jurors he was acting at Trump’s direction in arranging the Daniels payment. He was the only witness to testify that his ex-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.

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 have spoken to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

But the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) 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. Trump 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 Washington, D.C., though due to appeals and pretrial motions, it appears likely none of them will go to trial before Election Day.

The jury in Manhattan was tasked with deciding whether Trump was guilty of 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.

Jurors began deliberations on 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, they retreated to the jury room, emerging late in the afternoon to render their verdict.

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

During the trial, witness testimony frequently veered into sordid territory, with jurors getting an expansive education about tabloid practices and learning 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 Trump, 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, Trump 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, frequently closing his eyes while witnesses testified, leading to speculation that he had dozed off, something Trump denies.

Other times, Trump 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 Criminal 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.

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

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

 

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Source:
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