Donald Trump convicted of falsifying business records | World News - Hindustan Times
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Donald Trump convicted of falsifying business records

May 31, 2024 11:01 AM IST

The case involves Trump and his then fixer, Michael Cohen, making hush payments to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels in violation of state and federal laws

Washington: In a historic verdict, a New York jury unanimously held Donald Trump, the former American President and the presumptive nominee for Republican candidate for president in this year’s election, guilty of falsifying business records to abet the concealment of information that would have impinged on the 2016 presidential election.

Members of former US President Donald Trump's entourage watch as he speaks alongside his attorney. (Getty Images via AFP)
Members of former US President Donald Trump's entourage watch as he speaks alongside his attorney. (Getty Images via AFP)

The case involves Trump and his then fixer, Michael Cohen, making hush payments to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels in violation of state and federal laws. The jury convicted Trump on all 34 counts as charged.

The verdict creates an unprecedented situation in American democracy in two respects. This is the first time a former president has been convicted in a criminal case. It is also the first time a convicted felon is set to become the candidate of one of the two major parties and is, in fact, the leading contender, based on current polls, to become the president again. Unlike India, American law doesn’t bar convicted criminals from contesting the polls.

Trump will be sentenced on July 11. From probation to a four-year prison term, the judge has a menu of legal options to choose in such cases, and there is uncertainty about the nature of the sentence given the profile of the candidate. The sentencing is also scheduled just a few days before the Republican Convention will formally nominate Trump as the party’s candidate in Milwaukee.

Trump called the verdict “rigged”, cast aspersions on the judge and prosecutor, blamed the Joe Biden administration for the case with the aim of “wounding” a political opponent, and went on a fundraising offensive based on this narrative of victimhood.

“This was a disgrace. It was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters outside the courtroom in New York. Claiming he was fighting for the country and the constitution, Trump added, “The real verdict is going to be on November 5 by the people. They know what happened here..I am a very innocent man.” His campaign handles then shot off a fundraising appeal which framed Trump as a “political prisoner”.

Issuing his own fundraising appeal, at a time when he is facing segments of supporters who have either turned critical or turned indifferent, Biden tweeted, “There is only way to keep Donald Trump out of Oval Office: At the ballot box.” In a separate statement, the Biden campaign said that New York had shown that no one was above the law, projected Trump as a “threat to democracy”, and warned that a second Trump term meant “chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence”.

The political implications of the verdict may not amount to much though. According to an NPR-PBS poll conducted right before the verdict, 67% of the respondents said a conviction won’t impact their voting decision, 17% said a conviction would make them less likely to vote for Trump while 15% said that a conviction would make them more likely to vote for Trump.

The case — one of the four that Trump faces — revolved around $130,000 hush payment that Cohen made to Daniels in 2016 to keep quiet about an affair she claimed to have with Trump. This was in line with a set of arrangements that Trump had entered, including with the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, David Pecker, to “catch and kill” stories to prevent any damaging revelations before his 2016 run.

The prosecution’s case rested on the argument that Trump had conspired with Cohen to make this payment to Daniels; that Trump then repeatedly falsified his records to reimburse Cohen for the payment to show it as legal expenses; that all of this was intended to influence the election and was thus a violation of New York state election laws as well as federal election laws on campaign finance and contribution.

Falsification of business records, in itself, may have just been a misdemeanour, but connecting it to another crime allowed the prosecution to press felony charges. During the trial, Cohen, who had turned approver, offered details of his conversations with the former president and transactions; Daniels reconstructed the details of her relationship with Trump to show he had intent; and Pecker confirmed Trump’s arrangement with National Enquirer and offered details of other cases where similar payments had been made.

For his part, Trump denied having had a relationship with Daniels; he denied having entered into any conspiracy with Cohen or falsifying his records; and his defence rested on questioning Cohen’s credibility as a witness.

For six weeks, Trump sat in a Manhattan courtroom attending a trial where these arguments played out, 22 witnesses testified, and the presiding judge repeatedly held Trump to be in contempt for violating norms in front of 12 jurors, seven men and five women, all from New York.

Celebrating the verdict, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who brought forth the indictment and will now go down in history books as the man who forced the conviction of a former president, said, “We arrived at this trial and this verdict like every other case that comes to the courtroom, by following the facts and law without fear or favour.”

Trump remains an accused in three other cases. He faces charges of pressuring election officials to change the state’s electoral results in 2020 in Georgia, of engaging in a conspiracy to subvert the 2020 elections in Washington DC, and stealing classified files and not returning them in Florida.

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