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Jury convicts Trump in hush money case on all 34 charges

May 31, 2024 09:33AM ● By By Brett Rowland | The Center Square

President Donald Trump (45): U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand 

(The Center Square) – A Manhattan jury on Thursday convicted former President Donald Trump on all counts in his hush money case, a history-making verdict that could reshape the 2024 presidential election.

Trump was convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records for disguising hush money payments to an adult film actress as legal costs ahead of the 2016 election. 

Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Judge Juan Merchan set sentencing for 10 a.m. July 11, days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, which is scheduled for July 15-18, when Trump is likely to be selected as the party's nominee for president.

A jail or prison sentence could have implications for the 2024 rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden.

After the verdict was announced, a defiant Trump said voters would decide his guilt or innocence in November.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge that was corrupt," Trump said. "They wouldn't give us a venue change. We were at 5% or 6% [support] in this district, in this area. ... Everyone knows what happened here. We didn’t do a thing wrong. I’m a very innocent man. It’s OK. I’m fighting for our country. I’m fighting for our Constitution.” 

Trump said the case was brought by Biden, his political rival.

“Our whole country is being rigged right now," Trump said. "This was done by the Biden administration. I think it is just a disgrace. Our country has gone to hell. We are a nation in serious decline. This is a rigged decision right from day one.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to keep an adult actress from talking about an alleged affair with Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified business records with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve adult actress Stormy Daniels ($130,000), former Playboy model Karen McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements.

Both Daniels and Cohen testified during the trial.

Daniels detailed the alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump and testified she "blacked out." She also said Trump didn't wear a condom. Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial after that testimony, which they argued was prejudicial. Merchan denied that request for a mistrial. 

Cohen's $130,000 payment to Daniels ahead of the 2016 election is at the center of the case.

Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws in 2018 in relation to the payment. Cohen, a convicted perjurer, also pleaded guilty to other crimes, including tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and campaign finance violations in 2018.

Trump has denied having sex with Daniels in 2006 while he was married to Melania Trump.

Prosecutors called 20 witnesses to the stand during four weeks of testimony before the jury of 12 along with six alternates.

Cohen testified Trump knew about the hush money payment. On cross-examination, Cohen also testified he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Trump while he worked as Trump's attorney. Cohen said he stole the money that he was supposed to use to pay another company on Trump's behalf because his annual bonus had been reduced. After falling out with the former president, Cohen vowed to get revenge against Trump.

Trump's defense team called two witnesses, including one who contradicted Cohen's testimony. Robert Costello, a defense attorney Michael Cohen spoke to in 2018 while under federal investigation, refuted Cohen's testimony that Trump knew about the $130,000 hush money payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels.

During the trial, Merchan repeatedly fined Trump for his comments and social media activity outside the courtroom. He ordered Trump to pay a total of $10,000 for violating his gag order.

The gag order remains in place. Trump, the nation's 45th president, is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about the jurors, witnesses, attorneys, court staff, district attorney staff and family members of staff.

Trump, 77, is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a felony. He did not take the stand in his own defense.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to retake the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.