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Donald Trump Becomes First Former U.S. President Convicted of Felony Crimes

On Thursday, Donald Trump made history as the first former American president to be convicted of felony crimes. A New York jury found him guilty on all 34 charges in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through a hush money payment to a porn actor who alleged they had a sexual encounter.

Trump remained impassive as the verdict was read, while cheers from the street below echoed through the courthouse hallway. The decision came after more than nine hours of deliberations.

“This was a rigged, disgraceful trial,” Trump angrily told reporters after exiting the courtroom. “The real verdict will be on November 5th, by the people. They know what happened here.”

Judge Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where GOP leaders are expected to nominate Trump formally, despite the conviction.

The verdict marks a significant legal reckoning for Trump, exposing him to potential prison time in the city where his manipulation of the tabloid press helped elevate him from a real estate tycoon to a reality television star and ultimately to the presidency. As he seeks to reclaim the White House in this year’s election, the judgment presents voters with another test of their willingness to accept his boundary-breaking behavior.

Trump plans to appeal the verdict and faces a challenging dynamic as he returns to the campaign trail with felony convictions. Although there are no campaign rallies currently scheduled, he is expected to appear at Trump Tower on Friday and hold fundraisers next week.

The charges of falsifying business records carry up to four years in prison. However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did not confirm whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment, and it remains unclear if the judge will impose that punishment.

Despite the conviction, Trump can continue his pursuit of the White House. He faces three other felony indictments, but the New York case may be the only one to reach a conclusion before the November election, adding to its significance.

The political consequences of the verdict remain uncertain, as it may reinforce rather than alter entrenched opinions about Trump. For another candidate in another era, a criminal conviction might doom a presidential run. However, Trump’s political career has endured through two impeachments, allegations of sexual abuse, and investigations into everything from potential ties to Russia to plotting to overturn an election.

The case’s allegations have been known to voters for years and are considered less severe than the allegations in the other cases Trump faces, which charge him with subverting American democracy and mishandling national security secrets.

Trump’s campaign argued that the jury’s decision would not sway voters and that the election would be decided by issues such as inflation. Nonetheless, the verdict gives President Joe Biden and Democrats an opportunity to argue that Trump is unfit for office, though the White House has only issued a muted statement respecting the rule of law. Conversely, the decision fuels Trump’s claims of being victimized by a politically motivated criminal justice system.

Throughout the trial, Trump maintained his innocence, railing against the proceedings both inside and outside the courthouse. Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, criticized the case, calling it a political exercise rather than a legal one.

The trial tested the court system’s ability to handle a former president’s case, marked by Trump’s prominence and his attacks on the proceedings. The 12-person jury’s verdict was a repudiation of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the process.

“This defendant may be unlike any other in American history, but we arrived at this trial and today’s verdict in the same manner as any other case: by following the facts and the law,” said Bragg after the verdict.

The charges stem from allegations that Trump falsified business records to cover up a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had sex with Trump in 2006. The $130,000 payment, made by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, was recorded as legal expenses, which prosecutors said was an unlawful attempt to conceal the transaction’s true purpose.

Trump’s defense argued that the payments were for legitimate legal services and that Trump’s celebrity status made him an extortion target. Defense lawyers also claimed the hush money deals were motivated by personal concerns rather than political ones and sought to discredit Cohen, who had pleaded guilty to charges related to the payments in 2018.

The trial included weeks of testimony revisiting Trump’s past, including a secret recording of a conversation between Trump and Cohen discussing a $150,000 hush money deal involving another woman. Daniels testified about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, and jurors heard from others involved in the hush money deals.

Cohen’s testimony was pivotal, providing a direct link between Trump and the charges, describing Trump’s detailed knowledge of the scheme, and recounting his own break with Trump in 2018 when he chose to cooperate with prosecutors.

Despite criticism from some legal experts, the case’s importance is heightened as it could be the only one to reach a jury before the election. Other cases involving Trump are delayed or facing appeals, making this verdict particularly significant.

Source: The Associated Press

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