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Trump guilty verdict widens political divide

Sentencing for the former president is scheduled for July 11

A demonstrator outside the Manhattan Criminal Court reacts to a guilty verdict against Former President Donald Trump Associated Press/Photo by Julia Nikhinson

Trump guilty verdict widens political divide

Just a short time after a New York jury found former President Donald Trump guilty of business fraud on Thursday, donors overwhelmed his campaign donation web site, temporarily crashing it.

The flood of support from Trump backers matched what law professor Richard Epstein expected to see: The outcome of the case is further entrenching voters in their pre-existing political camps—not spurring them to change sides. Epstein, who teaches at New York University School of Law, compared the situation to the stock market.

“Let’s say that X is going to happen,” he said. “And then it turns out that X is a momentous event and it happens. What does it do to the stock price? The answer is very little. Because there is no new information that comes from that particular situation. It confirms your prior situation.”

As of today, Epstein said, voters have very little new information. The bigger reveal will come on July 11, Trump’s sentencing date.

Will the former president receive jail time or just probation? Will he be allowed out on bail while the case is being appealed? How long will it take? Could Trump be in the White House before the case is finalized?

The business records case stems from a $310,000 payment made in 2016 to Stephanie Clifford, also known as pornography actress Stormy Daniels. The payment was allegedly made to keep Clifford from going public with information about an extramarital affair between her and Trump. Trump has denied any involvement with Clifford.

Instead of focusing on the hush-money payment itself, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his team zeroed in on how Trump documented the payment as “legal expenses” in New York business filings. Falsifying business records is only a misdemeanor in New York unless it is done as part of a second, separate crime. Together, the two acts comprise a felony under Article 175 of New York penal code.

Prosecutors argued Trump crossed that line by not only lying about the nature of the payments, but also by doing so to further his own campaign, making it an illegal donation to help him win the White House.

“Most people who actually know about criminal procedure are absolutely aghast at how this case was charged,” Epstein said. “If anybody thinks this jury verdict is beyond reproach, I think that virtually every criminal law expert would say that it’s at risk. I regard this thing as a farce from the start.”

Walking out of the courtroom, the former president, flanked by his legal team, stopped briefly to address a hallway packed with reporters and law enforcement.

“This was a disgrace,” Trump said. “This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt. It’s a rigged trial, a disgrace. The real verdict will be November 5th by the people and they know what happened here. We didn’t do a thing wrong. I am a very innocent man.”

Republicans from across the country condemned the verdict as a blatant attempt to stop Trump from regaining the White House.

“Today is a shameful day in American history,” U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said in a statement. “This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one.”

Norman Acker, a former U.S. attorney who now works for the lawfirm K&L Gates, said just because the case was politically motivated does not mean the jury made the wrong decision.

“This was a Democratic district attorney who very well may have decided that he was going to bring this prosecution because of politics,” Acker said. “That’s separate from the question of whether or not he was guilty of a crime. I think we need to respect our jury system and to say that he has been found by a jury of his peers to be guilty of the crime. Unless that’s overturned on appeal, I think we as a society need to respect our justice system.”

Trump said he plans to appeal the conviction. Acker predicted that any appeal in the case will likely last beyond the presidential election in November.

As quickly as Trump’s allies blasted the verdict, his opponents rejoiced that justice had been served.

“Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. Biden also tried to rally voter support, noting, “But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box.”

Following the verdict, the Trump campaign almost immediately began referencing his conviction in fundraising pleas. The former president has seen bursts of support in fundraising and in polls in the past when prosecutors announced indictments against him. When asked if a similar moment could happen now, Christopher Nicholas, a Republican political consultant in Pennsylvania, said it’s a delicate calculus.

“No one wants to be a convicted felon ever, especially in the middle of a campaign,” Nicholas said. “Could it hurt him? Hurt Trump around the edges? Yes, and in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the race is essentially tied. Could that make a difference? Yes.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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