Conviction may be Trump's only jury verdict before election

By Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump emerged a convicted felon on Thursday from the first of four criminal cases he faces, but it is also the only trial the 2024 presidential hopeful is likely to undergo before the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

A jury found him guilty of falsifying business records to conceal a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election, making him the first former U.S. president to be convicted at a criminal trial.

The remaining legal cases against Trump - two related to efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election and a third focused on his stashing of secret government documents at his Florida social club – are all bogged down in legal squabbling that could prevent any of them from reaching a jury before voters cast their ballots.

President from 2017-2021, the Republican Trump is challenging Democratic President Joe Biden. He has successfully stalled the remaining cases, so far avoiding a public airing of some of the most serious allegations against him.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and argued that the legal cases against him, brought by state and federal prosecutors, are part of a singular Democratic-led effort to damage his campaign.

Some of his Republican allies in Congress - including House Speaker Mike Johnson - have joined Trump's attacks on the legal system, accusing Biden without evidence of orchestrating the prosecutions.


Mike Davis, founder of the conservative legal advocacy group Article III project and an outspoken Trump defender, said the array of legal cases had backfired on Trump adversaries, creating an impression of “throwing everything at the wall and see what sticks.”

The next major development in Trump’s legal cases will likely be the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, expected by the end of June, on Trump’s claim of immunity in the federal 2020 election subversion case for official acts taken as president.

The court’s 6-3 conservative majority - including three justices appointed by Trump - signaled in April that it was prepared to recognize some immunity from criminal prosecution for former presidents.

Such a ruling could require the Washington trial judge, Tanya Chutkan, to decide in the coming months if certain actions by Trump cited in the indictment must be excised from the prosecution's case.

The ruling could also have ripple effects on the election interference case in Georgia and a federal classified documents case in Florida. Trump’s lawyers have made immunity claims in both cases.

The documents case has been slowed by a flurry of legal challenges mounted by Trump and his two co-defendants. Aileen Cannon, the presiding judge who Trump nominated to the bench, has given Trump’s lawyers broad leeway to attack the allegations.


Cannon on May 8 indefinitely delayed the start of a trial.

She has scheduled hearings in June on Trump’s claims that Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading both federal cases against him, was unlawfully appointed and that federal agencies under the Biden administration played an improper role in the probe.

The Georgia case has been sidetracked by allegations that the lead prosecutor, Fani Willis, tainted the prosecution by having a romantic relationship with a lawyer she hired to work on the probe. The state appeals court agreed to consider Trump’s demand that Willis’ office be disqualified.

That appeal is expected to take several months, making it all but certain the case does not go to trial before the election.

Trump’s lawyers have suggested that any other trials this year would amount to election interference while prosecutors have cited a public interest in the prompt resolution of cases.

If he wins in November, Trump would be in a position as president to shut down the two federal cases and could seek to have the state prosecutions put on hold.

The delays mean voters are unlikely this year to hear evidence that Trump plotted to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election or held onto highly sensitive government records despite warnings from advisers that he could not keep them.

“The public interest in knowing the evidence in these cases and getting outcomes in these cases really couldn’t be higher,” said Kristy Parker, a former federal prosecutor now at the advocacy group Protect Democracy.

An April Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 58% of Americans thought it was important that Trump's criminal trials take place before the election.

Some legal experts have viewed the New York case as less significant than the others, dealing with conduct that is more dated and without loftier implications for American democracy or national security. The April Reuters/Ipsos poll found that a clear majority – 64% - of voters viewed the charges as serious, only marginally less than the other cases.

Prosecutors argued during the trial in New York that the case was also about election interference, framing the falsification of records as part of a larger conspiracy to suppress potentially damaging stories about Trump in 2016. Trump was accused of trying to hide hush money payments to Daniels to buy her silence on an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)