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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Trump convicted on all counts to become America’s first felon president

Former President Donald Trump exits the courthouse after being found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial at New York State Supreme Court in New York, on Thursday, May 30, 2024. Trump has been convicted of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened his ascent to the White House in 2016, part of a scheme that prosecutors described as a fraud on the American people. He is the first American president to be declared a felon. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

By Ben Protess, Jonah E. Bromwich and Maggie Haberman

Donald Trump was convicted on Thursday of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to derail his 2016 presidential campaign, capping an extraordinary trial that tested the resilience of the U.S. justice system and transformed the former commander-in-chief into a felon.

The guilty verdict in Manhattan — across the board, on all 34 counts — will reverberate throughout the nation and the world as it ushers in a new era of presidential politics. Trump will carry the stain of the verdict during his third run for the White House as voters now choose between an unpopular incumbent and a convicted criminal.

While it was once unthinkable that Americans would elect a felon as their leader, Trump’s insurgent behavior delights his supporters as he bulldozes the country’s norms. Now, the man who refused to accept his 2020 election loss is already seeking to delegitimize his conviction, attempting to assert the primacy of his raw political power over the nation’s rule of law.

Trump showed little emotion inside the courtroom as he learned his fate Thursday, but when he emerged, holding his jaw tense, the former president spoke to an assembly of television cameras. He declared that the verdict was “a disgrace” and, with a somber expression, proclaimed: “This is long from over.”

The judge overseeing the case, Juan M. Merchan, will sentence Trump on July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention where he will become the party’s nominee, and could impose a prison term of up to four years. But Trump could receive probation instead, and may never see the inside of a prison cell. He has vowed to appeal, and will remain free at least until sentencing, campaigning for the presidency while he awaits his punishment.

A jury of 12 New Yorkers needed two days of deliberations to decide a case stemming from Trump’s first White House run, when, prosecutors say, he perpetrated a fraud on the American people. The case — colored by tabloid intrigue, secret payoffs and an Oval Office pact that echoed the Watergate era — spotlighted months of scheming that begot a hush-money payment to a porn actor and a plot to falsify documents to bury all trace of that deal.

“Guilty,” the foreman declared 34 times, one for each false record, before he and his fellow jurors, whose names were withheld from the public for their safety, filed out of the courtroom.

People react to former President Donald Trump being found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in New York, on Thursday, May 30, 2024. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Over weeks of testimony, the jury met a varied cast of characters, including a tabloid maestro, a campaign spokesperson and the porn actor, Stormy Daniels. Their testimony built to an epic showdown between the men at the heart of the case: Trump, a real estate mogul turned reality-television impresario who exported his smash-mouth instincts to presidential politics; and the star witness against him, Michael Cohen, the do-anything fixer whose loyalty he lost.

In the waning days of the 2016 campaign, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to silence her story of a sexual liaison with Trump, who then agreed to “cook the books” to reimburse his fixer, prosecutors said. Defense lawyers attacked Cohen’s credibility — he is a “convicted liar,” they noted — and argued that Trump had never falsified any records.

Trump, who repeatedly violated a judge’s order barring him from attacking Cohen and the jury, attended every day of the trial in a lower Manhattan courthouse that had long ago lost its majesty — a fading hulk with cracked wood paneling and yellowed fluorescent lighting that suited the case’s seedier elements. There, in the center of a city justice system that accommodates all manner of mayhem, the former president glowered, muttered and often closed his eyes, spending much of the trial either in a meditative state or apparently asleep.

Trump still faces three other indictments in three other states, but with those cases mired in delays, this was likely to be his only trial before Election Day. The other prosecutions concern loftier issues — Trump is charged with mishandling classified documents in Florida and plotting to subvert democracy in Washington and Georgia — but this trial sprang from the seamy milieu that had made him famous as a New York gossip-page fixture.

The conviction — a humiliating defeat for a man who has dwelled in legal gray zones for decades — brings the nation’s highest office to a new low: Trump is the first president to lose, or even to face, a criminal trial.

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