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Hanging in the balance


WORLD Radio - Hanging in the balance

After the Manhattan verdict, many scenarios are possible for former President Donald Trump after his sentencing in July

Former President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Friday Associated Press/Photo by Julia Nikhinson

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 4th day of June, 2024.

This is WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you’ve joined us today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: And I’m Lindsay Mast.

First up on The World and Everything in It: Former President Donald Trump’s felony convictions in New York.

After seven weeks of trial, a Manhattan jury deliberated for nine hours before reaching the verdict last week.

Now, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his legal team are preparing an appeal. What effect will all this have on the 2024 election?

REICHARD: Washington Bureau reporter Carolina Lumetta has the story.

CAROLINA LUMETTA: On Thursday, a Manhattan jury announced the verdict heard ‘round the world: former President Donald Trump was guilty.

The 12-member jury convicted Trump on 34 charges of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments to a woman who claimed to have an affair with him. Trump reacted to the news during a press conference at Trump Tower on Friday.

TRUMP: So the whole thing is legal expense was marked down as legal expense. Think of it. This is the crime that I committed that I’m supposed to go to jail for 187 years for.

Each felony count could carry a sentence of 4 years, but the judge could sentence Trump to probation instead. The next phase of the trial will bring up questions such as, if Trump is sentenced to jail, will he be allowed out on bail until an appeal is adjudicated? Or will he have to continue his campaign for president from behind bars?

The closest the country has come to asking questions like this was 50 years ago, in 1974.

NIXON: I want to say this to the television audience. I made my mistakes …

That’s Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States.

NIXON: … And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice and I think too that I could say, in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because have got to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.

Shortly after getting elected to a second term, evidence uncovered by The Washington Post placed Nixon at the center of a scheme to break into the opposing party’s campaign headquarters. The scandal rocked the institution of the presidency and prompted questions of what would happen if a president was found guilty of a crime.

Congress prepared to impeach Nixon, but the president decided to resign from office…and so avoided answering that question.

Here’s Norman Acker, a former U.S. attorney, now a partner with K&L Gates.

ACKER: You know, Nixon resigned and did not pardon himself and President Ford then pardoned him immediately when he became president. That was under the assumption that the president could not pardon himself. But there’s nothing in the text of the constitution that says that.

The situation is a little different for Trump. Right now, he’s the target of four criminal cases: two federal indictments, one state-level case in Georgia, and this one—a state-level trial in New York. Because presidential powers only extend to federal matters, there’s not much Trump can do about his New York conviction, even if he does regain the White House.

ACKER: It’s very possible … I believe that he can pardon himself for federal offenses, but he clearly cannot for state offenses.

But Trump can appeal the verdict, and said he plans to do so.

NYU law professor Richard Epstein says he thinks Trump has solid grounds for an appeal.

EPSTEIN: If anyone thinks that this jury verdict is beyond reproach, I think that virtually every criminal law expert would say that it's a risk, others not. I regard this as a farce from start to beginning.

That’s because in New York, falsifying business records is only a felony if it’s done in furtherance of another crime. Judge Juan Merchan told members of the jury they must reach a unanimous decision on whether Trump was guilty of the first element of the crime—lying on business records. But they did not have to agree which one of several possible secondary crimes he was guilty of—only that a secondary crime occurred. Epstein says that makes the case ripe for an appeal.

EPSTEIN: And then at that particular point, if you look at it, what you will see perhaps is that there were serious disagreements amongst the jurors as to which particular felony he had committed, right? And if that's the particular case, then you could easily set aside the jury saying that you did not have a beyond a reasonable doubt, unanimous decision on w hich felony was committed. And if you’re saying, in effect, two thirds of the votes are against committing the felony, two of the three felonies, right then you have to acquit.

So could the conviction affect this year’s election?

FULLERTON: I don't think it will, honestly.

Ron Fullerton owns a Christmas tree farm in New Hampshire. He voted for Trump in the state’s primaries earlier this year, and his support has not wavered post-conviction.

FULLERTON: They took a misdemeanor about some hush money and six seven eight years later they tried to they they took him to court to try to find him guilty on felonies…you know I don’t know the solution, I think that people are more concerned about the prices of food in grocery stores than whether Trump was found guilty of a felony or not.

Fullerton isn’t alone. Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party report raising more than $52 million following the guilty verdict, with most of that coming from small dollar donors. Epstein says the verdict has predictably further entrenched Americans in their respective political camps.

EPSTEIN: If before you thought this was a rigged trial, you still do. If you before you thought this was the messiah coming to rest on earth to save us from Donald Trump … then it’s the same thing. There’s no new information. So, what’s going to happen? There will be new information and that will start the shifting. The one day that’s obviously going to matter is July 11th.

That’s the day that Trump is scheduled to be sentenced. Three days later, the Republican National Convention is slated to officially appoint him as the party nominee.

WORLD’s Leo Briceno contributed to this report, and reporting from Washington, I’m Carolina Lumetta.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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