Trump Verdict Live Blog: GUILTY

Justin Lane/Pool Photo via AP

The jury has returned a guilty verdict on at least one count in Donald Trump's hush-money trial. 

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Stand by for more updates ... 

Update: The full verdict has been read, and the jury convicted Trump on all 34 felony counts. The New York Times has a report up already:

Mr. Trump was convicted on all 34 counts of falsifying business records by a jury of 12 New Yorkers, who deliberated over two days to reach a decision in a case rife with descriptions of secret deals, tabloid scandal and an Oval Office pact with echoes of Watergate. The jury found that Mr. Trump had faked records to conceal the purpose of money given to his onetime fixer, Michael D. Cohen. The false records disguised the payments as ordinary legal expenses when in truth, Mr. Trump was reimbursing Mr. Cohen for a $130,000 hush-money deal the fixer struck with the porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her account of a sexual liaison with Mr. Trump.

The felony conviction calls for a sentence of up to four years behind bars, but Mr. Trump may never see the inside of a prison cell. He could receive probation when he is sentenced, and he is certain to appeal the verdict — meaning it may be years before the case is resolved. Still, the jury’s decision is an indelible moment in America’s history, concluding the only one of four criminal cases against Mr. Trump that was likely to go to trial before Election Day.

Also, the Wall Street Journal:

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The presiding judge, Justice Juan Merchan, now faces the unprecedented task of sentencing Trump, 77 years old. The New York offenses were low-level felonies that carry no mandatory punishment, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged the case in a manner for which there is little precedent. Trump also is a first-time offender with no criminal record.

Such circumstances could make a prison sentence unlikely. Merchan has other penalties from which to choose, ranging from a fine to probation. Trump is certain to appeal, which could take months or years to resolve. The process could be further complicated if Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, wins a second presidential term.  ...

The verdict provides vindication for Bragg, who took a gamble on a case that other prosecutors declined to pursue. Federal prosecutors first investigated the hush-money payments, leading to Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea to campaign-finance violations. But they opted against charging Trump, despite finding that he directed payoffs to two women.

That vindication may be short-lived. Now that the verdict has come in, Trump's legal team can finally appeal the entire process in both state and federal courts, although an appeal in New York is the most likely starting point. Needless to say, there are any number of grounds on which this verdict could be appealed. Anticipating this verdict, former federal prosecutor William Otis laid out why he is convinced this verdict will not survive scrutiny on appeal:

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It’s the law in every jurisdiction I ever heard of that any particular item of evidence must be excluded if its prejudice to the defendant outweighs its probative value. That seems clearly to have been the case here. In essence, Bragg became ensnared in his own trick. He wanted to prosecute Trump for being A Bad Person and did so. But that wasn’t (and of course could not have been) the charge written down in the indictment, nor the one the court of appeals will review. As to the actual charge — the campaign finance stuff — all the excursion into real-live-porn was vastly and (to me) obviously overkill, only tangentially related to showing the true nature of the payment but veritably bulging with prejudice.

Reversed.

The second reason the case will be coming back is that, in a confounding error, Judge Marchan refused to give an instruction that paying hush money is not itself a crime. That it is not is a correct statement of law, in New York (indeed, there if anywhere), and it was crucial to Trump’s defense precisely because of the peep-show prosecution Bragg put on as opposed to the follow-the-paper case he should have put on. Judge Marchan’s refusal to give this charge was, in my view, a breathtaking blunder and by itself warrants reversal.

Be sure to read on, because Otis has more grounds for reversal, while noting that he is not attempting to create a comprehensive list of reversible errors. Otis doesn't believe Michael Cohen's perjury on the stand will make a difference, but I'd add that the cross-examination that made clear that Cohen performed legal work for the retainer fees in question contradict the entire premise of the prosecution -- that the ledger entries for those payments were falsified as legal fees. 

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As I noted above, the Trump team will likely start the appeals process in the state system. But there is a glaring Sixth Amendment problem in this prosecution that make this ripe for federal appeals, too. The indictment never specified the underlying crime that the allegedly falsified records intended to cover up, and Bragg's office never made a case for the crime in question during trial. Only in closing arguments did they offer three different crimes as potential cover-up material, and never presented evidence for any of them. That flies in the face of the constitutional right to know "the nature and cause of the accusation." 

And that's probably not a comprehensive accounting for grounds to appeal in federal court, either. Another would be Bragg's crypto-enforcement of federal law that lies outside his jurisdiction, which Judge Juan Merchan allowed in an underhanded manner and then arguably amplified in his instructions to the jury. 

Trump's sentencing will take place on July 11, but the appeals will be pushed hard before then, along with requests to set aside the verdict altogether. We can expect this to be a hot story nearly every day between then and now. 

Meanwhile, what does this do for Trump electorally? We'll see, but while the trial may not have moved the needle much until now, it's going to have galvanizing effects that Biden and Democrats may not have anticipated:

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We'll have more as developments warrant.

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024
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