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Faith Nyasuguta

Donald Trump made history on Thursday, becoming the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime. A New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to hide a payment meant to silence a porn star before the 2016 election. The jury, after two days of deliberations, unanimously convicted Trump on all 34 felony counts he faced.

Trump remained stoic as the jury delivered the verdict. Justice Juan Merchan scheduled his sentencing for July 11, just days before the Republican Party is set to nominate Trump for the November 5 presidential election. 

The charges of falsifying business documents carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though sentences often range from shorter prison terms to fines or probation. Trump will not be jailed before sentencing, and a prison sentence would not legally bar him from campaigning or taking office if elected.

This verdict thrusts the United States into uncharted waters as the country heads towards the November election, with Trump seeking to reclaim the White House from President Joe Biden. Trump, 77, has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer announced plans to appeal the verdict swiftly.

“This is a disgrace,” Trump declared to reporters, maintaining his innocence and alleging that the trial was rigged. “The real verdict will be on November 5 by the people,” he added.

Trump gave a thumbs-up through his SUV’s tinted window as his motorcade departed the courthouse, where his supporters had gathered alongside journalists, police, and onlookers. Opinion polls indicate a close race between Trump and Biden, 81, with some polls suggesting that a guilty verdict might erode Trump’s support among independent and Republican voters.

Donald Trump /Times of Israel/

Despite being considered the least significant of the four criminal cases Trump faces, this verdict is the most consequential due to its timing ahead of the election, with the other cases delayed by procedural issues. The jury’s decision came after a five-week trial that included explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which Trump denies.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels during the final weeks of the 2016 election, amidst multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Trump. Cohen explained that the payment was reimbursed to him through monthly installments disguised as legal fees. Trump’s defense challenged Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal history and prior dishonesty. The judge advised jurors to scrutinize Cohen’s testimony carefully.

The jury’s relatively quick verdict suggests they found sufficient evidence to support Cohen’s account, noted George Grasso, a retired New York judge who attended the trial. According to a source close to Trump’s campaign, the verdict might accelerate deliberations on selecting a female vice-presidential running mate. Trump’s campaign website labeled him a “political prisoner” and solicited donations from supporters.

Biden’s campaign responded to the verdict by emphasizing that no one is above the law and urged voters to reject Trump in the upcoming election. “The only way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office is at the ballot box,” the campaign stated. The White House declined to comment.

Republicans quickly denounced the verdict. House Speaker Mike Johnson called it “a shameful day in American history” in a prepared statement. The jury informed the court of their decision at 4:20 p.m., and the foreperson read all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 p.m.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche requested the judge to overturn the guilty verdict, arguing it was based on Cohen’s unreliable testimony, but the judge denied the request. Trump’s appeal will likely focus on Daniels’ testimony and the novel legal theory prosecutors used, though legal experts believe his chances of success are slim. 

“We will appeal as quickly as possible and seek expedited review,” Trump attorney Will Scharf said.

In New York, falsifying business documents is usually a misdemeanor, but prosecutors elevated the charges to felonies, arguing that Trump was hiding an illegal campaign contribution. They had to prove Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard in U.S. law.

“We did our job. The jury’s voice is the only one that matters, and they have spoken,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Jurors reviewed testimony and documents detailing the reimbursements to Cohen.

Donald Trump /Courtesy/

The case, referred to as the “zombie case,” was revived by Bragg after his predecessor chose not to pursue charges. If Trump were to be re-elected, he could potentially dismiss the federal cases accusing him of attempting to overturn the 2020 election and mishandling classified documents. However, he could not interfere with a separate election interference case in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming that his legal challenges are politically motivated attacks by Biden’s Democratic allies.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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