Donald Trump found guilty of all charges in New York hush money case

Click to play video: 'Trump guilty: Jury convicts former president on all 34 counts in hush money trial'
Trump guilty: Jury convicts former president on all 34 counts in hush money trial
WATCH: Trump guilty: Jury convicts former president on all 34 counts in hush money trial – May 30, 2024

A New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, making Trump the first former American president ever convicted on criminal charges.

The jury reached the verdict Thursday after less than 12 hours of deliberation, which began Wednesday after a historic and intensely watched trial in Manhattan.

State prosecutors had accused Trump — who is seeking to return to the White House this fall — of conspiring to bury media stories about alleged affairs after entering the presidential race, and of hiding reimbursements to his then-fixer for paying off a porn star to keep her allegations quiet just days before Trump was elected.

The verdict marks a watershed moment for the U.S. political system, which has never before had to contend with a convicted felon running for the presidency as the likely nominee of one of the two main parties. Trump faces three other criminal indictments, but it’s unlikely those cases will go to trial before November’s election.

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“This was a rigged, disgraceful trial,” Trump told reporters outside the courtroom minutes after the verdict was delivered. “The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people.”

Trump suggested he will appeal the verdict, saying the case was “far from over.”

Click to play video: 'Trump speaks after jury finds him guilty on all counts in hush money trial'
Trump speaks after jury finds him guilty on all counts in hush money trial

It’s unclear whether prosecutors will seek a prison sentence for Trump, or if Judge Juan Merchan would impose that punishment if asked. Trump faces a maximum sentence of four years behind bars for each charge, but could see a fine or probation instead.

Merchan set a sentencing date for July 11.

“While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes through the courtroom doors: by following the facts and the law and doing so without fear or favour,” Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg said during a press conference.

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“We should all be thankful for the careful attention that this jury paid to the evidence and the law, and their time and commitment.”

Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office, said in a brief statement provided by the White House, “We respect the rule of law, and have no additional comment.”

Case hinged on Michael Cohen testimony

The 34 felony counts Trump faced related to payments prosecutors said were made on Trump’s behalf to stifle claims made by porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing, and has claimed the encounter with Daniels never happened.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who became the prosecution’s star witness, pleaded guilty to federal charges for paying Daniels US$130,000 during the final days of the 2016 campaign to keep her from going public with her story. Cohen testified during the trial that he paid Daniels at Trump’s direction, and that his former boss reimbursed Cohen with payments that were logged by the Trump Organization as legal expenses. Some of the payments were made in the early days of Trump’s presidency.

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Click to play video: 'Trump’s hush money trial enters final stages'
Trump’s hush money trial enters final stages

Each false ledger entry and cheque signed by Trump was counted as a separate felony in Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment, which was announced in April 2023.

Trump’s lawyers contended they were legitimate payments for actual legal services, and that his celebrity status made him a target for extortion. They also argued that once Trump was in the White House, he was too busy running the country to focus on the day-to-day accounting of his company, countering prosecutors’ portrait of Trump as a detail-oriented micro-manager of his finances.

The defence called just two witnesses, but Trump did not testify. His lawyers spent much of their time describing Cohen as a serial liar who perjured himself during testimony, and pressed him on his recollection of key details.

On cross-examination, for instance, Cohen admitted stealing tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company by asking to be reimbursed for money he had not spent. Cohen acknowledged once telling a prosecutor he felt that Daniels and her lawyer were extorting Trump.

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“He’s literally like an MVP of liars. He lies constantly,” lawyer Todd Blanche said of Cohen during Tuesday’s closing arguments. “He lied to Congress. He lied to prosecutors. He lied to his family and business associates.”

Click to play video: 'Closing arguments delivered in Trump’s historic hush money trial'
Closing arguments delivered in Trump’s historic hush money trial

The nearly two dozen witnesses included Daniels, who described in sometimes vivid detail the encounter she says she had with Trump; David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, who testified that he used his media enterprise to protect Trump by squelching stories that could harm his campaign; and Cohen, who testified that Trump was intimately involved in the hush money discussions.

“Just pay it,” the now-disbarred lawyer quoted Trump as saying.

Prosecutors showed jurors bank statements, emails and other documentary evidence, as well as an audio recording in which Cohen and Trump can be heard discussing paying US$150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep her from going public with a claim that she had had a year-long affair with Trump. Trump has denied a relationship with McDougal too.

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“The name of the game was concealment and all roads lead inescapably to the man who benefited most, the defendant, a man named Donald J. Trump,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said.

Click to play video: 'Trump says ‘Mother Teresa could not beat these charges’ as jury deliberates'
Trump says ‘Mother Teresa could not beat these charges’ as jury deliberates

Reaction pours in

The month-long trial drew enormous attention on the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, where pro- and anti-Trump protesters gathered outside daily and Trump delivered lengthy comments to throngs of reporters while entering and exiting the courtroom. He has continued to campaign during breaks in the proceedings.

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Several Republican allies of Trump in the U.S. Congress, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, travelled to New York to speak in his defence and attack the judge, prosecutors and even the jury selected in the heavily Democratic city as being biased. Trump was unable to make many of those attacks due to a gag order, which Merchan nonetheless found he violated multiple times and issued fines for contempt.

“This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one,” Johnson, who is second in line to the presidency, said in a statement after the verdict.

“The American people see this as lawfare, and they know it is wrong—and dangerous.”

Click to play video: 'Robert De Niro slams Trump as a ‘clown’ outside NYC hush money trial'
Robert De Niro slams Trump as a ‘clown’ outside NYC hush money trial

Supporters of U.S. President Biden, including actor Robert De Niro and former members of the U.S. Capitol Police who responded to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, showed up during closing arguments on Tuesday to speak to media and portray Trump as unfit for office.

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“In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law,” a statement from Biden’s re-election campaign said.

“But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality,” it warned. “There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box.”

Trump faces both a federal criminal case and a related one in Georgia related to his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden, which led to the Jan. 6 attack. He also faces federal charges in Florida related to his alleged withholding of classified documents he took with him after leaving the White House. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

—With files from The Associated Press

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