Donald Trump guilty, convicted of hush money scheme in historic verdict

NEW YORK — Donald Trump was found guilty of falsifying New York business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in a conspiracy to defraud the 2016 electorate, a historic verdict making Trump a felon and the first American president to suffer the indignity of a criminal conviction.

Jurors found Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsification of business records tied to his reimbursement to Michael Cohen in 2017 for paying off the adult film star two weeks before his victory against Hillary Clinton to stay silent about her claims of an extramarital liaison in a Lake Tahoe hotel room a decade prior.

Trump sat stone-faced as the verdict was read, looking over at the jury as it was polled.

Judge Juan Merchan then excused the jurors, thanking them for their time and service. “You gave this matter the attention it deserved,” he said.

Trump, 77, could receive a sentence of up to four years in prison when sentenced, or a term of probation. Sentencing is set for July 11.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial,” Trump said outside the courtroom. “This was a rigged, disgraceful trial. The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people, and they know what happened here.”

His lawyer, Todd Blanche, moved to have the verdict tossed on the basis that the state’s key witness, Cohen, “perjured himself and lied.” Merchan swiftly denied the motion.

The verdict caps the first of four criminal cases facing the 45th U.S. president — and the only one expected to resolve before the election in November — and determines he committed felonies during his last successful bid for the White House.

The panel of seven men and five women, who heard from 22 witnesses, got the case midday Wednesday, following a monthlong case in which prosecutors presented extensive testimony about a plot to influence Trump’s candidacy devised in August 2015 at Trump Tower between the newly minted candidate, Cohen, and David Pecker, the former chairman of American Media Inc., or AMI, who spent four days on the stand.

Front-page stories lauding the presidential candidate with input from Trump’s campaign that ran in the AMI-run National Enquirer were part of the ruse to boost Trump’s candidacy and hit jobs maligning his opponents.

Pecker, the media magnate friendly with Trump for decades, told the court he agreed to keep an eye out for stories that could harm his chances with voters, leading to payoffs silencing Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and a doorman at Trump Tower about a series of alleged sex scandals.

In the state’s closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked the jury to hold the ex-president to the same standard as every citizen and find him legally accountable for causing the filing of bogus business records to disguise a conspiracy to hide information from voters, in violation of New York election law, to get him elected.

“A lot of people say this: Who cares? Who cares if Mr. Trump slept with a porn star 10 years before the 2016 election? Plenty of people feel that way, as I said. But it’s harder to say that the American people don’t have the right to decide for themselves whether they care or not, that a handful of people sitting in a room can decide what information gets into those voters’ hands,” Steinglass said.

“There is no special standard for this defendant. Donald Trump can’t shoot someone during rush hour on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in April 2023 and vehemently denied knowledge of the false entries documenting his bloated payback to Cohen — monthly $35,000 checks logged in the books as compensation for legal services.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, in his final statements to the jury, denied the existence of the “catch and kill” scheme to influence the election or that his client knew about internal bookkeeping practices at the Trump Organization.

“There is no other way to categorize an invoice from a lawyer to President Trump than to call it a legal expense. The Government has criminalized that, has said that that was a crime ... That’s absurd. It’s not a crime,” Blanche said.

“Campaigns want to amplify the good things about their candidate and expose the bad things about their opponents. Again, this is a campaign. This is an election. This is not a crime.”

Trump still faces 54 felonies in three cases in Washington, D.C., Fulton County, Georgia, and Fort Pierce, Florida, which respectively allege he plotted to overturn Biden’s 2020 win, subvert the results of that election in Georgia, and mishandled highly sensitive classified documents and thwarted efforts by law enforcement to recover them. He’s pleaded not guilty to all counts.