Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s criminal hush money trial

Editor’s note: This article was updated Thursday afternoon with the jury’s verdict.

The jury finished deliberating around 4:45 p.m. Thursday afternoon after two days. They announced their verdict at 5:08 p.m.

Trump was found guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records, a class E felony.

Judge Juan Merchan will deliver Trump’s sentence at a July 11 hearing. Trump is allowed to remain at liberty without bail until then.

“This was a rigged decision right from day one,” Trump said before leaving the courthouse. “… The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people.”

Below is the original article.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is on trial for 34 counts of falsifying business records related to “hush money” payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016. The jury is currently in the process of deliberating, with a verdict expected in the coming days.

The trial is the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president and is the first of four criminal trials Trump currently faces. As Trump is expected to be the 2024 Republican nominee for president, the trial’s outcome holds serious implications for November’s election.

Here’s what you need to know about the case and what a “guilty” verdict could mean for Trump’s candidacy.

What are the facts of the case?

Trump was first indicted in March 2023 by a Manhattan grand jury on state charges that he falsified documents related to the hush money payment. He was arraigned days later and pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts. His trial began April 15 of this year.

The case centers around the claim that Trump knowingly falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct. The records in question are invoices from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who paid Daniels $130,000 in 2016.

Daniels has said the payment was made as a way of buying her silence about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006, which she was in talks with the National Enquirer to go on the record about at the time. Cohen sought reimbursement in early 2017 from the Trump Organization, which he received over the course of a year with significant interest.

It is these monthly invoices of $35,000 — resulting in a total payment of $420,000 to Cohen — that, alongside 12 vouchers and 11 checks from Trump’s personal account and his revocable trust, make up the 34 falsified documents. All 34 documents were reported as legal retainers in the Trump Organization’s records.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to eight federal charges of fraud, tax evasion and campaign finance violations relating to the payments he made to Daniels and Karen McDougal — another woman who claimed she had an affair with Trump and was paid to stay silent — and was sentenced in December of that year to three years in federal prison.

However, while the prosecution has suggested that Trump’s actions were in violation of state and federal election laws and state tax laws, the only charge brought against the former president thus far is for falsifying documents in the first degree.

That said, much of the trial has focused on whether or not Trump doctored the records intentionally for the purpose of concealing damaging information from the electorate in advance of the 2016 presidential election. The defense has maintained that payments made to Daniels were legal and were done to protect Trump’s family from embarrassment, not to influence the election outcome.

During the trial’s closing arguments Tuesday, the prosecution described the actions by Trump and his associates as “a conspiracy and a coverup” undergone for the explicit purpose of manipulating the results of the 2016 election. Lead prosecutor Joshua Steinglass referenced the testimony of 20 witnesses called to the stand over the trial’s six weeks as support for this claim.

The defense chose to attack Cohen’s character for the majority of Tuesday’s final showing, labeling the trial’s star witness as both the “MVP of lying” and the “greatest liar of all time” in an attempt to discredit his testimony in the eyes of the jury.

Deliberations began Wednesday morning, and the jury was sent home around 4 p.m. with plans to return Thursday morning.

How does the deliberation process work?

The trial’s 12 jurors — seven men and five women whose identities have been kept confidential — entered a private room near the courtroom just before noon Wednesday morning to begin the task of deciding whether they will find Trump guilty on each of the 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Judge Juan Merchan first relayed instructions for the deliberation process, which included reminders about “fairness” and “set[ting] aside any personal opinions or bias” toward the defendant, to not consider possible sentencing in their determination and to only consider evidence presented during the trial’s proceedings.

The jurors may communicate with the court through notes to the judge, which they made use of Wednesday to hear the judge’s instructions again and to rehear a portion of testimony. They are not sequestered. 

The jury must come to a unanimous decision on each count for the verdict to be accepted by the judge. If the jury unanimously finds Trump guilty on a count, he will be convicted on that count. If they unanimously find him not guilty, he will be acquitted on that count.

Jurors are not required to unanimously agree on every count — they can reach a verdict on some and an impasse on others. If the jury cannot agree on any count, the judge can first prompt the jury to reexamine their views before declaring them a “hung jury” — and the case a mistrial.

The jury is under no time constraint to deliver their verdict, though if deliberations take more than a few days, the defense may seek a mistrial.

Trump and his colleagues are required to remain in the courthouse during the deliberation process. The six alternate jurors, who can be dismissed in the state of New York after deliberations begin, were asked to remain in the courthouse by Merchan.

If found guilty, can Trump still run for president?

The short answer is yes.

There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents a convicted felon from being elected president. The only eligibility requirements for a presidential bid are to be at least 35 years old, a “natural born” citizen and to have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years.

While some states have laws on the books that prevent convicted felons from running for state or local office, those restrictions do not apply for federal ballots. The Republican Party — which is expected to name Trump as its nominee at its July convention after he gained the support of the majority of delegates in the March state primaries — has a guaranteed spot on state ballots and can name whomever it chooses.

States could theoretically pass new legislation to prevent convicted felons from being included on the ballot before November, but to do so would be legally questionable, as prior state-imposed restrictions have been struck down in the past — not to mention logistically nearly impossible given the short time frame.

If Trump is found guilty, Merchan will determine his sentencing at a later date after hearing opinions from the prosecutors, defense and potentially a probation office.

As class E felonies, the charges Trump faces could carry a prison sentence of up to four years each, though one is not required. Legal analysts are divided on what the possible sentencing could look like, though many agree that Trump’s lack of a prior criminal record and mature age make jail time improbable.

More likely, Merchan could sentence Trump to a period of probation, which would require him to report regularly to New York City’s Probation Department and would allow him to be immediately jailed if he committed additional crimes.

If convicted, Trump is expected to appeal the decision, which would kickstart another months- or years-long process and would thus nullify the potential for any formal decision in advance of Election Day.

What’s happening with the other cases?

Trump faces three other criminal cases and one civil case at the moment, though none are expected to go to trial before the November election.

First is the Georgia election interference case. Trump was charged in August alongside 18 others with participating in a scheme to illegally overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election. The charges were brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which carries a sentence of five to 20 years. Several of the other defendants have already reached plea deals, promising to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Trump also faces nine other criminal charges in the case, which include filing false documents, statements and writings, as well as assorted conspiracy charges. Though originally scheduled to go to trial in August, the case is expected to be delayed in part due to claims that Willis engaged in an “improper” relationship with then-Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The second criminal case also deals with alleged election interference, but this time on a federal level. Trump was indicted last August by Special Counsel Jack Smith with conspiracy to overturn his loss to President Joseph Biden in 2020. Trump faces four felony charges: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

The case centers around claims that Trump and his associates knowingly spread election fraud lies and pressured state officials to overturn the results, enlisted fake electors in multiple states and pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. The case has since been dubbed “the January 6th case” in reference to the notorious insurrection by Trump’s supporters at the U.S. Capitol, which many have asserted the former president incited — some going as far to label it an act of treason.

The trial was originally scheduled for March 4, but was postponed indefinitely in February as Trump pursued a claim of “presidential immunity.” The Supreme Court heard arguments on the immunity claim April 25.

The final criminal case, also brought by Smith, was announced in June and deals with classified documents allegedly brought illegally by Trump from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after he left office in January 2021. Trump faces 40 felony charges for both possession of the documents and obstructing government demands to return them.

Though originally scheduled for trial May 20, the case was delayed indefinitely.

Additionally, Trump faces a civil fraud lawsuit for allegedly lying about his wealth on financial statements for years, inflating the value of his assets to qualify for more favorable loan rates. The case was decided in February, with Judge Arthur Engoran ordering the former president to pay $454 million — a $355 million fine plus interest — for his crimes in a 92-page decision.

Trump appealed the decision 10 days later, and an appeals court ruled in March that he only had to pay $175 million until the full appeal process concluded. Arguments are set to begin in September, though a specific date has not been announced.

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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