Donald Trump found guilty of all 34 charges in hush money trial

The verdict is a stunning legal reckoning for the former US president and exposes him to potential prison time.

Former US president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)
Former US president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP) (Mark Peterson/AP)

Donald Trump has become the first former US president to be convicted of felony crimes as a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through hush money payments to an adult movie actress who said the two had sex.

Jurors deliberated for more than nine hours over two days before convicting Trump of all 34 counts he faced.

Trump sat stone-faced while the verdict was read as cheering from the street below could be heard in the hallway on the courthouse’s 15th floor where the decision was revealed.

“This was a rigged, disgraceful trial,” he told reporters after leaving the courtroom. “The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people. They know what happened, and everyone knows what happened here.”

The verdict is a stunning legal reckoning for Trump and exposes him to potential prison time in the city where his manipulations of the tabloid press helped catapult him from a property tycoon to reality TV star and ultimately president.

As he seeks to reclaim the White House in this year’s election, the judgment presents voters with another test of their willingness to accept his boundary-breaking behaviour.

Trump is expected to quickly appeal against the verdict and will face an awkward dynamic as he returns to the campaign trail as a convicted felon. There are no campaign rallies on the calendar for now, though he is expected to hold fundraisers next week.

Judge Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Republican leaders who remained resolute in their support in the immediate aftermath of the verdict are expected to formally make him their nominee.

Judge Juan Merchan (Seth Wenig/AP)
Judge Juan Merchan (Seth Wenig/AP) (Seth Wenig/AP)

The charges of falsifying business records carry up to four years behind bars, though prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek imprisonment, and it is not clear whether the judge would impose that punishment even if asked. The conviction, and even imprisonment, will not bar Trump from continuing his pursuit of the White House.

Trump faces three other felony indictments, but the New York case may be the only one to reach a conclusion before the November election, adding to the significance of the outcome.

Though the legal and historical implications of the verdict are apparent, the political consequences are less so given its potential to reinforce rather than reshape already-hardened opinions about Trump.

His political career has endured through two impeachments, allegations of sexual abuse, investigations into everything from potential ties to Russia to plotting to overturn an election, and personally salacious storylines including the emergence of a recording in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals.

In addition, the general allegations of the case have been known to voters for years and are widely seen as less grievous than the allegations he faces in three other cases that charge him with subverting American democracy and mishandling national security secrets.

Donald Trump walks outside Manhattan Criminal Court after the verdicts (Steven Hirsch/New York Post/AP)
Donald Trump walks outside Manhattan Criminal Court after the verdicts (Steven Hirsch/New York Post/AP) (Steven Hirsch/AP)

Even so, the verdict is likely to give President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats space to sharpen arguments that Trump is unfit for office, even as it provides fodder for the presumptive Republican nominee to advance his unsupported claims that he is victimised by a criminal justice system he insists is politically motivated against him.

Trump maintained throughout the trial that he had done nothing wrong and that the case should never have been brought, railing against the proceedings from inside the courthouse — where he was joined by a parade of high-profile Republican allies — and racking up fines for violating a gag order with inflammatory out-of-court comments about witnesses.

Republicans showed no sign of loosening their embrace of the party leader, with House of Representatives speaker Mike Johnson releasing a statement lamenting what he called “a shameful day in American history”. He called the case “a purely political exercise, not a legal one”.

The trial involved charges that Trump falsified business records to cover up hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, the actress who said she had sex with the married Trump in 2006.

Stormy Daniels in court (Elizabeth Williams/AP)
Stormy Daniels in court (Elizabeth Williams/AP) (Elizabeth Williams/AP)

The 130,000-dollar (£100,000) payment was made by Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen to buy Ms Daniels’ silence during the final weeks of the 2016 race in what prosecutors allege was an effort to interfere in the election.

When Cohen was reimbursed, the payments were recorded as legal expenses, which prosecutors said was an unlawful attempt to mask the true purpose of the transaction. Trump’s lawyers said they were legitimate payments for legal services.

Trump has denied the sexual encounter, and his lawyers argued during the trial that his celebrity status, particularly during the 2016 campaign, made him a target for extortion.

They have said hush money deals to bury negative stories about Trump were motivated by personal considerations such as the impact on his family and brand as a businessman, not political ones.

They also sought to undermine the credibility of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges related to the payments, as driven by personal animosity towards Trump as well as fame and money.

Michael Cohen (Seth Wenig/AP)
Michael Cohen (Seth Wenig/AP) (Seth Wenig/AP)

Trump did not give evidence, but jurors heard his voice through a secret recording of a conversation with Cohen in which he and the lawyer discussed a 150,000-dollar hush money deal involving a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who has said she had an affair with Trump: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump was heard saying on the recording made by Cohen.

Ms Daniels offered at times a graphic recounting of the sexual encounter she says they had in a hotel suite during a Lake Tahoe golf tournament. The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, told the court he worked to keep stories harmful to the Trump campaign from becoming public, including by having his company buy Ms McDougal’s story.

Jurors also heard from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated the hush money payments on behalf of Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal.

He detailed the tense negotiations to get both women compensated for their silence but also faced an aggressive round of questioning from a Trump lawyer who noted that Mr Davidson had helped broker similar hush money deals in cases involving other prominent figures.

But the most pivotal witness was Cohen, who spent days on the stand and gave jurors an insider’s view of the hush money scheme and what he said was Trump’s detailed knowledge of it.

“Just take care of it,” he quoted Trump as saying at one point.