Donald Trump becomes first US president found guilty of a crime in hush-money trial

Trump found guilty of falsifying business records in New York hush-money trial

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Former US president Donald Trump on Thursday was found guilty in an unprecedented trial over a hush-money payment scheme, making him the first sitting or former US president to ever be convicted of a crime.

A New York jury found Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up payments made to people claiming to have scandalous stories during his 2016 electoral campaign.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who formally brought the charges after an investigation, commended the jurors for their work.

“Their deliberations led them to a unanimous conclusion beyond the reasonable doubt, that the defendant, Donald J Trump, is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree to conceal a scheme to corrupt the 2016 election,” he said in a press briefing.

“While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and, ultimately, today, this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes through the courtroom doors, by following the facts and the law and doing so without fear or favour.”

Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges and his legal team is expected to appeal the verdict. His lawyers tried for an acquittal after the verdict but Mr Merchan denied the request.

The 12-member jury heard testimony from more than 20 witnesses over the course of five weeks in a Manhattan court.

Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen and adult film star Stormy Daniels were two major witnesses who testified in the trial, tackling the $130,000 hush-money payment at the heart of the case.

After beginning deliberations on Wednesday, jurors discussed evidence for about 11 hours.

“You were engaged in a difficult and stressful task, you gave this matter the attention it deserved,” Mr Merchan said to the jury after reading the verdict in a Manhattan courtroom.

Trump did not testify and at times appeared to doze off during the proceedings. He also repeatedly breached a gag order, resulting in a fine and a threat of jail time by Mr Merchan.

The decision is uncharted territory, as the US justice system has never convicted or sentenced a former president who is running for office again.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 11, days before Trump is expected to be nominated at the Republican National Convention for the November 5 presidential election.

Falsifying business records can result in up to four years in prison.

Imprisonment is unlikely for first-time offenders, and New York prosecutors have not indicated if they will try to have him jailed. It is also unclear if Mr Merchan will take up that line of sentencing.

A convicted felon can run for office, and Trump has called the trial “election interference”.

“This was a rigged, disgraceful trial,” he told news reporters after the verdict. “I am a very innocent man.”

Mr Cohen called the conviction of his former boss “an important day for accountability and the rule of law”.

Trump is also is facing federal and state charges in other cases over alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 election results and mishandling classified documents after his presidency ended.

White House counsel office spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement: “We respect the rule of law, and have no additional comment.”

The New York case is seen to be the only one to make it to trial before the November presidential election.

The re-election campaign for President Joe Biden said that the conviction shows that “no one is above the law”.

“Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain,” Biden-Harris 2024 campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said in a statement.

Both Trump and the Biden campaign have said that Americans will make the final choice this November.

“The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people,” Trump said.

His campaign already sent out a fundraising call after the verdict.

Mr Tyler also said: “There is only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box.”

Updated: May 31, 2024, 11:20 AM