What’s next for Donald Trump after hush money conviction?

Here’s how Trump’s hush money conviction can affect the US election in November 2024.

Former US President Donald Trump has been convicted of falsifying records to cover a hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels leading up to the 2016 United States presidential election.

This decision makes Trump the first president in the history of the United States to be convicted of criminal charges.

Here is what we know so far:

What was Trump found guilty of?

After seven weeks of trial, shortly after 5pm local time (21:00 GMT) on Thursday, a New York City jury unanimously found him guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

Daniels claimed that ahead of the 2016 election that Trump eventually won, he paid her $130,000 to remain silent on a sexual encounter the two had a decade earlier. Trump denies the affair.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen made the payment, and testified that he acted under Trump’s direct orders. Cohen insists Trump paid him back, using money collected for his election campaign.

The 34 charges relate to the different ways in which Trump categorised this hush money as legal fees in his records, which, according to the court included:

  • Eleven invoices for legal services
  • Eleven cheques paid for legal services
  • Twelve ledger entries for legal expenses

Will Trump go to prison?

It is unlikely that Trump will go to jail, although it is technically possible.

While paying hush money in itself is not illegal, each count of falsification carries a sentence ranging from one year to a maximum of four years. So, in theory, Trump could face up to a total of 136 years in prison.

But in practice, it is uncommon for people who are only convicted of falsification of business records and have no other criminal history to be sentenced to prison in New York. Instead, punishments such as probation, fines or community service are more common.

Even those who are sentenced to jail over falsification convictions typically serve a year or less in prison, and that too, usually, if they are also convicted of other crimes such as fraud or grand larceny – which is not the case with Trump.

When will sentencing take place?

At the end of Thursday’s proceedings, sentencing was set for 10am (14:00 GMT) on July 11, at the request of defence lawyer Todd Blanche.

Trump will return to court for his sentencing hearing.

It falls four days before Trump is expected to be formally nominated as the party’s presidential nominee at the Republican Party’s national convention.

Donald Trump
Trump speaks to reporters as he leaves the courthouse after the jury found him guilty of all 34 felony counts in his criminal trial in New York, May 30 [Justin Lane/Pool via Reuters]

Can Trump still run for president as a felon?

Yes, Trump can still run for US president in the November 2024 election.

The US Constitution requires that presidents are at least 35 years old and natural-born US citizens who have lived in the country for at least 14 years – Trump fulfils all criteria.

It does not bar convicts from running for or winning the presidency.

Can Trump appeal the conviction?

After Trump’s conviction, his lawyer, Blanche, asked Judge Juan Merchan to dismiss the guilty verdict. But Merchan swiftly rejected the routine, pro forma request.

However, after sentencing, Trump can challenge his conviction in a New York appellate court and possibly the Court of Appeals. His lawyers are already believed to be laying the groundwork for potential arguments, including:

  • He can accuse the judge of bias, arguing that the judge’s daughter leads a firm with several Democrats as clients, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
  • He can argue Judge Merchan made legal errors, including in allowing jurors to hear Daniels’ salacious testimony.
  • Blanche argued Daniels’ description of a power imbalance with the older, taller Trump, was a “dog whistle for rape,” irrelevant to the case.
  • Trump can argue that the charges themselves were legally improper. Falsification alone is a misdemeanour in New York but is elevated to a felony when done to help commit or conceal another crime. In this case, the other crime, according to the prosecution, was a conspiracy to violate a state election law. However, Trump’s lawyers can argue that since he was contesting a federal election, state election laws don’t apply to him, and so he should have been charged with a misdemeanour, not a felony.

How could this affect the US election?

According to a poll released on May 30 by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist, 67 percent of respondents said their vote in November would not be affected if Trump were found guilty.

Former prosecutor and government ethics expert Melanie Sloan told Al Jazeera the guilty verdict would likely drive a wedge between Trump and more moderate constituencies, however.

A poll conducted by Bloomberg and Morning Consult in January showed that 53 percent of voters in key swing states would refuse to vote for Trump if he were convicted.

Trump’s election campaign began to bank on the conviction before the guilty verdict was even released: his campaign fired off fundraising appeals, sent text messages deeming him a political prisoner and started selling black coloured “Make America Great Again” caps to mark a “dark day in history”.

Trump will hold a news conference on Friday at Trump Tower as part of his campaign for the US presidential election.

Trump’s daughter-in-law and co-chair of the Republican National Committee Lara Trump told Fox News on Thursday that Trump would conduct campaign events and rallies online in case he is convicted and sentenced to home confinement.

How did Trump react?

As Trump left the court, he suggested without evidence that the conviction was orchestrated by Biden’s administration.

“Our whole country is being rigged right now,” he told reporters as he left the court.

How did other observers react?

Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump posted a childhood photo with her father on her Instagram story on Thursday, captioning it “I love you dad”. Ivanka and Trump’s wife Melania Trump have largely remained silent during the trial.

Democratic President Biden, who is set to face Trump in the November election, posted an election fundraiser on his X account on Thursday, writing, “There’s only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: At the ballot box.”

Trump’s claim that the conviction was politically motivated was echoed by Republican lawmakers.

These included House Speaker Mike Johnson, who wrote “Today is a shameful day in American history” in an X post on Thursday. “The weaponization of our justice system has been a hallmark of the Biden Administration.”

However, the former Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, wrote on X ahead of the verdict that Americans should “respect the verdict and the legal process”.

Democratic California Representative Adam Schiff wrote on X on Thursday, “Despite his efforts to distract, delay, and deny – justice arrived for Donald Trump all the same.”

Source: Al Jazeera