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Donald Trump

Donald Trump Found Guilty On All 34 Felony Counts

NBC News
May 30, 2024

NEW YORK, New York - A New York jury has found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, marking the first time a former US president has ever been convicted of a crime.

The verdict was read in the Manhattan courtroom where Trump has been on trial since April 15. He pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a hush money payment made by his former lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election.

The jury reached its verdict after 9.5 hours of deliberations, which began Wednesday.

The historic conviction comes as Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the jury in his closing arguments earlier this week that “the law is the law and it applies to everyone equally. There is no special standard for this defendant.” “You, the jury, have the ability to hold the defendant accountable,” Steinglass said.

Trump had maintained the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office had no case and that there had been no crime. “President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes,” his lead attorney Todd Blanche said in his closing statement, arguing the payments to Cohen were legitimate.

Prosecutors said the disguised payment to Cohen was part of a “planned, coordinated long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures, to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way.”

“It was election fraud. Pure and simple,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said in his opening statement.

While Trump was not charged with conspiracy, prosecutors argued he caused the records to be falsified because he was trying to cover up a violation of state election law- and falsifying business records with the intent to cover another crime raises the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The verdict came after a sensational weeks-long trial that included combative testimony from Cohen, Trump’s self-described former fixer, and Daniels, who testified that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament. Trump has denied her claim, and his attorney had suggested that Cohen acted on his own because he thought it would make “the boss” happy.

Other witnesses included former White House staffers including advisor Hope Hicks, former Trump Organization executives, and former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Trump did not take the witness stand to offer his own account of what happened, despite proclaiming before the trial began that he would “absolutely” testify. The defense’s main witness was Robert Costello, a lawyer who Cohen considered retaining in 2018. Costello, who testified that Cohen had told him Trump had nothing to do with the Daniels’ payment, enraged Judge Juan Merchan by making disrespectful comments and faces on the stand. At one point, the judge cleared the courtroom at one point during Costello’s testimony and threatened to hold him in contempt.

Cohen testified that he lied to Costello because he didn’t trust him and that he’d lied to others about Trump’s involvement at the time because he wanted to protect his former boss.

Cohen was the lone witness to testify to Trump’s direct involvement in the $130,000 payment and the subsequent reimbursement plan. Blanche spent days challenging his credibility, getting Cohen to acknowledge he has a history of lying, including under oath. Blanche also got Cohen to acknowledge he swindled Trump and his company out of $30,000 by falsely claiming he’d paid $50,000 to a technology company on Trump’s behalf when in actuality he’d paid the company closer to $20,000.

Cohen said he was paid that money along with the Daniels’ cash in a series of payments from Trump throughout 2017 that the Trump Organization characterized as payments pursuant to a retainer agreement “for legal services rendered.”

Prosecutors said there was no such agreement, and Cohen’s version of events was supported by some documentary evidence and witness testimony.

Pecker testified about a 2015 meeting with Trump and Cohen where they asked him to be their “eyes and ears” for scandalous stories that could harm Trump’s campaign, and he said he helped the pair quash two such stories. One involved a doorman who falsely claimed to have information about a Trump love child and the other concerned a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal, who claimed she’d had a months-long affair with Trump that started in 2006. Trump has denied McDougal’s claim, but Pecker said he believed it in part because Trump had described her to him as a “nice girl.”

Pecker’s company paid the doorman $30,000 and McDougal $150,000 for their silence.

Pecker said he’d been told Trump would pay the $150,000 back, and Cohen secretly taped Trump talking about the planned payment, which never happened.

The AMI executive testified he also helped alert Cohen to Daniels’ story in October 2016, when Trump’s campaign was reeling from the release of the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump can be heard bragging about being able to grope women because he’s famous.

Blanche insisted to the jury that the series of checks then-President Trump paid Cohen in 2017 “was not a payback to Mr. Cohen for the money that he gave to Ms. Daniels,” and that he was being paid for his legal work as Trump’s personal lawyer.

That position was challenged by testimony from Jeff McConney, a former senior vice president at Trump’s company. McConney said he’d been told by the company’s chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg that Cohen was being reimbursed for a $130,000 payment and the $50,000 payment, and prosecutors entered Weisselberg’s handwritten notes on the payment formula as evidence. Cohen said Trump agreed to the arrangement in a meeting with him and Weisselberg just days before he was inaugurated as the 45th U.S. president.

Weisselberg did not testify. He’s in jail on a perjury charge related to his testimony in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against Trump and his company. Cohen, McConney and other witnesses said Weisselberg, who spent decades working for Trump, always sought his approval for large expenditures.

In all, the prosecution called 20 witnesses in the case, while the defense called two.

Trump had frequently claimed, falsely, that the charges against him were a political concoction orchestrated by President Joe Biden to keep the former president off the campaign trail. But Trump eventually managed to bring the campaign to the courtroom, hosting top Republicans including House Speaker Mike Johnson and Sens. JD Vance of Ohio and Rick Scott of Florida as his guests in court. Trump also used court breaks to tout political messages to his supporters, while his surrogates sidestepped Merchan’s gag order against Trump by attacking witnesses, individual prosecutors and the judge’s daughter.

Merchan fined Trump $10,000 during the trial for violating his order, including with attacks on Cohen and Daniels, and warned he could have him locked up if he continued violating the order.

Trump was indicted in March of last year following a years-long investigation by Bragg and his predecessor Cyrus Vance. The charges were the first ever brought against a former president, although Trump has since been charged and pleaded not guilty in three other cases. None of the three — a federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., a state election interference case in Georgia and a federal case alleging he mishandled classified documents and national security information — appear likely to go to trial before the Nov. 5 presidential election.

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