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Trump Becomes First Former President in US History to Be Convicted of a Crime

Trump’s sentencing is set to commence in July, just days before his nomination at the Republican National Convention.

Former President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after being found guilty in his hush money trial on May 30, 2024 in New York City.

On Thursday afternoon, in The People vs. Donald Trump — the New York-based trial featuring, for the first time in United States history, an ex-president in a criminal proceeding— a jury of the former president’s peers delivered a unanimous verdict: that he was guilty of all crimes he was accused of committing.

Trump faced 34 charges relating to concealing hush money payments to women he had engaged in extramarital affairs with, utilizing his eponymous business to do so, sometimes with the help of a popular tabloid magazine. Trump had sought to keep those hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments hidden in order to avoid controversy ahead of the 2016 election, skirting federal election laws that require expenses by a candidate relating to their pursuit of office to be recorded and explained.

The payments were made in the form of reimbursements by Trump to his then-fixer lawyer, Michael Cohen, a key witness in the case. Cohen made and coordinated the initial payments to the women Trump was involved with, and was paid back through the Trump Organization, which listed the reimbursements as legal expenses.

In New York, it is illegal to falsify business records in such a manner. It becomes a felony when such actions are done in order to cover up another crime, which, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Trump did to avoid listing the payments in Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings as he sought the presidency eight years ago.

Trump, who is also the Republican Party nominee for president this year, tried at many points of the six-week trial to falsely suggest that the charges he faced were solely politically motivated. His claims were not backed by evidence and ventured into the conspiratorial — he wrongly stated, for example, that President Joe Biden, his main opponent in the 2024 presidential election, had orchestrated the charges.

Trump’s attacks against court employees, potential witnesses and jury members during the case also resulted in him receiving a gag order, limiting what he could say publicly about people participating in the trial. Although Trump wrongly suggested that the gag order was a violation of his First Amendment rights, such orders are not uncommon in cases where parties involved have the potential to improperly influence the outcome — and Trump was allowed to speak his mind about the trial so long as his rants didn’t endanger certain individuals.

Trump was found to be in violation of the gag order on nine separate occasions, and was ordered to pay $1,000 in fines each time.

After the verdict was issued on Thursday, Trump posted a flurry of messages on Truth Social and reposted messages of support from his followers, continuing to errantly portray the trial as politically motivated.

“THIS WAS A DISGRACE — A RIGGED TRIAL BY A CONFLICTED JUDGE WHO IS CORRUPT,” Trump wrote in one message, again providing no legitimate evidence to back his assertion.

“WE WILL FIGHT FOR OUR CONSTITUTION — THIS IS LONG FROM OVER!” the GOP candidate for president, who once called for the termination of that same governing document, also said.

In comments to reporters near the Manhattan courthouse, Trump maintained that he’s a “very innocent man.”

“We’ll keep fighting, we’ll fight till the end and we’ll win,” Trump said, adding that the “real verdict” will come from voters on November 5.

Trump’s guilt in a state-level crime cannot be overturned by a federal election outcome. He can, however, still run for president, even with a guilty verdict against him.

It’s unclear whether Trump will be in prison or a relatively free man once a verdict is rendered. A formal decision on Trump’s sentencing will be made on July 11. Justice Juan Merchan, the judge who oversaw the trial (and a frequent subject of Trump’s ire) will determine at that time whether the former president will face any prison time, or whether he will be given a probationary sentence, including possibly house arrest. If the judge opts to hand down a prison sentence, Trump could face as many as four years behind bars.

The Republican National Convention — where Trump is set to become the official GOP nominee in the 2024 presidential election — is slated for just a few days after his scheduled sentencing. It’s possible that Trump’s lawyers will submit a motion to change the sentencing date, so that it won’t be so close to the convention. And an appeal is imminent.

Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer in the trial, vowed to file motions seeking to have the conviction dismissed.

“If that is not successful, then as soon as we can appeal we will,” Blanche said on CNN hours after the verdict was read. “And the process in New York is there’s a sentencing, and then we appeal from there.”

An appeals process would likely mean that Trump won’t face any sentencing guidelines for the foreseeable future, including up to Election Day in November.

In response to Trump’s conviction, the Biden campaign released a statement, saying, “In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law.”

The campaign also recognized that Trump’s conviction would not bar him from running for office, stating:

Today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.

The Biden campaign described a second Trump term as being harmful to democracy, saying it would mean “chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence.”

Trump has claimed in the past, and maintained on Thursday, that a conviction against him would actually help his chances in the election. However, polling has demonstrated that, while most voters won’t be affected by a guilty verdict, a small but sizeable number would be.

In an election as close as this one, every policy position, every perception of a candidate — and yes, a criminal conviction — will matter. Indeed, polling last year showed that nearly a third of voters would be less likely to vote for Trump if he’s found guilty of a crime.

The polling agency YouGov conducted a snap poll immediately after the verdict and released its results on Friday morning, showcasing that most Americans — 50 percent — agree with the outcome of the trial. Only 39 percent disagree, while 19 percent are unsure.

Several legal experts and commentators weighed in on the implications of the conviction — particularly from a political perspective, as Trump remains the presumed presidential nominee for the Republican Party.

“This is obviously new ground we’re treading,” Leslie Caughell, Virginia Wesleyan University associate professor of political science, told an ABC News affiliate station WVEC in Norfolk, Virginia. “For the most part you don’t expect a verdict, guilty or not guilty to change many people’s minds…[but] particularly for people in swing states, this could be very meaningful.”

“Today’s verdict will not necessarily keep Trump out of the White House, but the conviction of a major candidate has never been tested,” noted venerated journalist Dan Rather.

“For the first time in his life, Donald Trump has been held accountable for his criminal conduct,” presidential historian Steven Beschloss said. “This is a sad day when we reflect that a man like this ever occupied our White House. This is also a day to celebrate justice and the rule of law.”

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