Donald Trump found guilty in historic New York hush money case

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 been convicted of a crime.

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

As the jury foreperson read the “guilty” verdict for each count, Trump narrowed his eyes and looked down. The jury reached its decision after 9.5 hours of deliberations, which began on Wednesday. This historic conviction comes as Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Judge Juan Merchan thanked the jurors for their service in the weeks-long trial, stating, “You gave this matter the attention it deserved, and I want to thank you for that.” After the jury left the room, Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, made a motion for acquittal, which the judge denied.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass emphasized that the law applies to everyone equally and urged the jury to hold Trump accountable. Steinglass argued that Trump had orchestrated a “planned, coordinated long-running conspiracy” to influence the 2016 election by making illegal expenditures to silence individuals who could harm his campaign, using falsified business records to cover up these actions.

Matthew Colangelo, another prosecutor, described the scheme as “election fraud, pure and simple.” Although Trump was not charged with conspiracy, prosecutors argued that his intent to cover up a violation of state election law by falsifying business records elevated the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The trial featured dramatic testimony, including combative exchanges from Cohen, Trump’s self-described former fixer, and Daniels, who testified about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. Trump denied her claims, asserting that Cohen acted independently to please him.

Key witnesses included former White House staffers like advisor Hope Hicks, former Trump Organization executives, and David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer. Trump did not testify, despite previously asserting he would. The defense’s main witness, lawyer Robert Costello, who Cohen had considered retaining in 2018, made disrespectful comments that enraged Judge Merchan, leading to a courtroom clearance and threats of contempt.

Cohen was the sole witness to directly implicate Trump in the $130,000 payment and the reimbursement plan, though Blanche challenged Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his history of lying and deceit.

Prosecutors presented documentary evidence and witness testimony to support Cohen’s claims. Pecker testified about efforts to suppress stories that could damage Trump’s campaign, including silencing a doorman with a false claim about a Trump love child and a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.

Blanche argued that payments to Cohen in 2017 were for legal services, not a reimbursement for the Daniels payment. This position was contested by testimony from Jeff McConney, a former Trump Organization executive, who cited instructions from CFO Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg’s handwritten notes on the payment formula were entered as evidence, corroborating Cohen’s account.

The trial included 20 prosecution witnesses and two defense witnesses. Trump frequently claimed the charges were politically motivated by President Joe Biden, though he used the trial as a platform for political messaging. He hosted top Republicans in court and continued to rally support despite a gag order. Judge Merchan fined Trump $10,000 for violating the order and warned of potential jail time for further violations.

Trump was indicted in March last year following a lengthy investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his predecessor, Cyrus Vance. This case is one of four legal battles Trump faces, though none of the others — involving election interference and mishandling classified documents — are likely to go to trial before the November 5 presidential election.

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