Donald Trump Guilty In “Hush Money” Trial

After a historic verdict Donald Trump becomes the first former President convicted of a felony

Donald Trump sitting at a table in a court room
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On Thursday the 30th of May 2024 at around 5pm Donald J. Trump, the former 45th President of the United States of America made history.

For all the wrong reasons.

Donald Trump is now the first former President to have a criminal record after a jury found him guilty of all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records he was facing.

What Was The Trial About?

During the 2016 Trump election campaign a now-infamous recording of Donald Trump, called the “Access Hollywood tape” came out.

In it Trump described how he would treat certain women – you can listen to it below but be warned it contains language that you may find offensive:

After this tape was released, the Trump campaign was worried that any more negative stories coming out about Trump and his indiscretions would damage his polling numbers with women.

In the aftermath of this, Trump’s team found out that Stephanie Gregory Clifford, more famously known by her stage name of Stormy Daniels, was shopping a story to various news outlets about a sexual encounter she had with Trump while Melania Trump was allegedly pregnant with their son Byron.

Initially Trump tried to get The National Enquirer to buy the story and sit on it – a process called “catch and kill”. The National Enquirer refused to buy the story on Trump’s behalf as they had previously paid out significant sums[1]ABC News: Inside the 3 so-called ‘catch and kill’ payments in Trump’s indictment for little-to-no return.

As a result Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, set up a shell company, took out a home equity loan and paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in return for signing a NDA.

This in itself isn’t illegal, NDAs and “hush money” payments are arranged all the time, but what happened next was against the law.

In order to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 and to cover his taxes, Trump paid Cohen via a series of cheques which were marked down in their accounts as “Legal Expenses”. The cheques were initially from a trust handling his assets, and later from Trump’s own bank account.

Usually fraudulently entering business records would be a misdemeanour, however as Trump had made the payment in “support of a crime” – violating federal campaign finance law by not disclosing payments made from campaign funds – this increased the severity to a felony.

What Were The Charges?

Because there were multiple cheques, invoices and communications between Trump and Cohen, these were all charged separately. Here’s a breakdown of each individual count:

1. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s invoice for January/February 2017 into business records
Date: 14th February 2017

2. Ledger Entry – Donald J Trump Revocable Trust

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 842457
Date: 14th February 2017

3. Ledger Entry – Donald J Trump Revocable Trust

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 842460
Date: 14th February 2017

4. Cheque From the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust

No. 000138
Amount: $70,000
Date: 14th February 2017

5. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s March 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 16th March 2017

6. Ledger Entry – Donald J Trump Revocable Trust

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 846907
Date: 17th March 2017

7. Cheque From the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust

No. 000147
Amount: $35,000
Date: 17th March 2017

8. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s April 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 13th April 2017

9. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 858770
Date: 19th June 2017

10. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002740
Amount: $35,000
Date: 19th June 2017

11. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s May 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 22nd May 2017

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12. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 855331
Date: 22nd May 2017

13. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002700
Amount: $35,000
Date: 23rd May 2017

14. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s June 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 16th June 2017

15. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 858772
Date: 17th June 2019

16. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002741
Amount: $35,000
Date: 19th June 2017

17. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s July 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 11th July 2017

18. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 861096
Date: 11th July 2017

19. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002781
Amount: $35,000
Date: 11th July 2017

20. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s August 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 1st August 2017

21. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 863641
Date: 1st August 2017

22. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002821
Amount: $35,000
Date: 1st August 2017

23. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s September 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 11th September 2017

24. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 868174
Date: 11th September 2017

25. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002908
Amount: $35,000
Date: 12th September 2017

26. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s October 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 18th October 2017

27. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 872654
Date: 18th October 2017

28. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002944
Amount: $35,000
Date: 18th November 2017

29. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s November 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 20th November 2017

30. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 876511
Date: 20th November 2017

31. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 002980
Amount: $35,000
Date: 21st November 2017

32. Invoice From Cohen

Entered Cohen’s December 2017 invoice into business records
Date: 1st December 2017

33. Ledger Entry – Trump Organisation

A entry in accounting system bearing voucher number 877785
Date: 1st December 2017

34. Cheque From Donald J. Trump Personal Account

No. 003006
Amount: $35,000
Date: 5th December 2017

What Was The Verdict?

The jury of 7 men and 5 women started deliberating just before 11:30am on Wednesday 29th of May.

Judge Merchan had spent the previous hour instructing the jury on points of the law and the definition of certain words such as “intent” and “reasonable doubt”[2]Independent: Judge gave 12 jurors weighing Trump’s fate these instructions.

The jury did come back with one question and court employees read out part of David Pecker’s testimony to them.

In order to find Trump guilty the jurors needed to find that Trump not only had a hand in falsifying the business records, but that he did so in order to cover up another crime: that he purposefully worked to influence the election by “unlawful means” by misrepresenting the payment records which is considered a violation of New York state election conspiracy law.

“Unlawful means” in this case also included violations of state and federal tax laws and the Federal Election Campaign Act.

The law states that the second crime doesn’t actually have to have occurred, just that there was an intent to commit one or cover it up[3]Independent: What prosecutors need to prove for a jury to convict Donald Trump.

A guilty verdict requires the jury to unanimously find that Trump “personally, or by acting in concert with another person or persons, made or caused a false entry in the business records of an enterprise with intent to defraud that included an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof”.

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After deliberating for 9 1/2 hours the jury unanimously found him guilty on all 34 charges.

What Did Trump Have To Say?

Trump made a statement after the verdict was announced calling the process “rigged” and called by a “Soros-backed D.A”, he accused Judge Merchan of being “corrupt”,  and accused the Biden administration of orchestrating the whole trial.

I shouldn’t have to but I need to point out none of that is true.

What Happens Next?

Sentencing is set for the 11th of July 2024, just 4 days before the Republican National Convention meets on the 15th to decide their nominations for the President and Vice President.

Many Republicans have come out in strong support of Trump, and with the lack of a clear challenger it’s unlikely that he will be dropped as their first choice for the party’s Presidential candidate.

While each felony count carries a term of 4 years, New York state caps the maximum sentence to 20 years. Trump will be unlikely to face prison time however as it is a first-time offence and some form of probation is more likely[4]USA Today: Donald Trump found guilty: Will he go to prison? What to know ahead of sentencing.

Trump obviously has the right to appeal so any sentence (custodial or otherwise) would be stayed pending the outcome. This would likely mean that his appeal would be well past the date of the election which could make things interesting – particularly if he were to win in November and enact some of Project 2025s policies surrounding the Department of Justice.

Can Trump Still Become President?

Surprisingly, yes!

There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents anyone with a criminal conviction from holding the post of President. The only 3 requirements in order to qualify for the position is[5]CNN: Trump is now a convicted felon. He can still run for president:

  • Be a natural born citizen.
  • Be at least 35 years old.
  • Have been a US resident for at least 14 years

Even if Trump was imprisoned, it won’t necessarily stop him from running. Back in 1920, Eugene Debs ran for President after being imprisoned for sedition – he got 3.4% of the votes[6]Wikipedia: Eugene V. Debs.

As Trump is a resident of Florida, he would still be eligible to vote assuming he had served any custodial sentence relating to his case and paid any applicable fines. What he won’t be able to do (if his conviction isn’t over-turned) is visit a large number of countries which may cause issues in his role as President.

Several countries have blanket bans on people entering if they have a conviction[7]Visa Guide: Countries You Can’t Travel to With a Criminal Record so it might be difficult for him on state visits – and potentially embarrassing for the country he’s visiting if have one rule for him and another rule for everyone else.

What About The Other Cases?

There are still 3 pending cases against Trump:

The Top Secret Documents Case

This case was due to be heard on the 20th of May but is in limbo. Judge Aileen Cannon has indefinitely postponed it citing issues with pre-trial motions and has been delaying rulings in what some see as an effort to help Trump, who appointed her to the position[8]Business Insider: The judge in Trump’s classified documents case just gave him exactly what he wanted — again.

Status: On Hold

The 2020 Insurrection Case

This was scheduled to have started on the 4th of March 2020 but was put on hold pending Trump’s appeal on grounds of Presidential Immunity. This appeal was initially heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the appeal was denied.

Trump then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in April 2024 and the case is still pending, and with a 6-3 Republican majority it would appear they’re in no rush to hand down a ruling[9]Vox: Donald Trump already won the only Supreme Court fight that mattered.

Status: On Hold

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The Georgia Election Interference Case

Trump is facing 10 state felony counts of racketeering relating to election interference. The case was delayed substantially when one of the 18 co-defendants, Michael Roman, tried to get District Attorney Fani Willis removed from the case due to her having an “improper relationship” with one of the case’s prosecutors[10]The Guardian: Trump co-defendant alleges Georgia DA and prosecutor in relationship but offers no proof.

The lead Prosecutor agreed to resign, but Willis remained on the case after Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee gave them the option to recuse her whole team or have Prosecutor Wade stand down[11]CBS News: Nathan Wade resigns after judge says Fani Willis and her office can stay on Trump Georgia 2020 election case if he steps aside.

Trump’s team appealed McAfee’s decision and the Georgia Court of Appeals will review McAfee’s decision and a date for this review has still to be set.

Status: On Hold

Final Thoughts

We’re certainly sailing though uncharted waters at this point.

When it comes to the Presidency I can’t see Trump losing the Republican nomination, there isn’t a strong enough opponent who can oust him. Sure, Nikki Hayley might be taking votes off of Trump even when she’s not standing[12]Politico: Nikki Haley keeps racking up votes in final stretch of the GOP primary, and Donald Trump keeps ignoring them but she doesn’t have the backing required.

His fervent MAGA base will just see this as the Government and Deep State hounding their beloved leader again, in fact Trump is already fundraising off the back of being as he’s – in his words – being held a political prisoner.

Trump campaign advert stating he is a political prisoner

I would expect Trump to use this conviction as a rallying cry to get his supporters backing him even more but for more moderate Republicans, voting for a convicted felon might be a step too far.

I guess we’ll have to wait for sentencing on the 11th of July to see what happens next and whether that will change more Republicans minds ahead of the RNC on the 15th.

What do you think? Will the conviction send voters scurrying from Trump or will it galvanise support behind him? Let me know in the comments below.

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Featured Image: Press Pool Photo

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