Donald Trump's Conviction: Now What?

One of the most profound paradoxes of this case is that Trump is accused of sexual transgressions, and of lying about these cases. Yet, up to this point, his popularity among evangelical Christian conservatives remains undiminished

Donald Trump's Conviction: Now What?

It is election year in the USA, but a New York jury has thrown a spanner in the works with its historic verdict against former president Donald Trump. The Republican became the first US president to ever be convicted of felony crimes, when he was found guilty of all 34 charges in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 presidential elections through hush money payments to a porn actor who had confessed to having sexual relations with Trump. His sentencing is now scheduled for July 11. 

This was an extraordinary and historic trial that tested the resilience of the American justice system and will definitely affect the forthcoming November elections in the US. Donald Trump faced the humiliation of being convicted on all 34 counts by a jury of 12 New York residents who deliberated for two days and then finally reached this historic decision. This case was rife with descriptions of secret deals, tabloid scandals, and an Oval Office pact with echoes of Watergate. 

The former president sat largely expressionless, with a glum look on his face, after the jury issued its verdict. The jury found that Trump had faked records to conceal the purpose of money given to his onetime fixer, Michael D. Cohen. The false records disguised the payments as ordinary legal expenses when, in truth, Trump was reimbursing Cohen for a $130,000 hush-money deal the fixer struck with porn actor Stormy Daniels to silence her account of a sexual liaison with Trump. 

The prosecution could ask for up to four years in prison, but it is too early to predict the exact outcome. He will certainly appeal his case, or he could receive probation when he is sentenced: it simply means that the case could take years before it is finally resolved. Nevertheless, the jury’s decision is a landmark in American judicial history: it has concluded one of the four criminal cases against Trump, which are likely to go to trial before election day. 

Legally and constitutionally, Trump could still be the next US president. Nothing in the American legal system or its constitution prevents a felon from running for president or from occupying the Oval Office in the White House. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the case against him has been politically motivated and that he is not guilty of any illegal act: he will now present himself as a victim of the Democrats’ vengeance and political trickery. 

The essence of the rule of law is that no one, not even a president or former president, is above the law

Inside the courtroom, the jury’s foreman recited “guilty” 34 times, and Donald Trump showed no emotion: he just sat still and shook his head as the verdict was read out. Trump appeared sombre during brief remarks outside the courthouse, in which he repeated a litany of complaints about the case, including that the judge, Juan M. Merchan, was biased against him. “The real verdict is going to be November 5, by the people,” he told reporters, without responding to a question about why Americans should vote for a felon. 

On CNN, Jake Tapper declared the day “an unbelievable moment in American history,” while also acknowledging that there was little immediate understanding of how the verdict would play out in this year’s presidential race. The big question now is whether Trump could go to prison. The answer is uncertain. Judge Juan M. Merchan set sentencing for July 11, just days before Republicans are set to formally nominate Trump as their candidate for president.

This historic trial and its verdict are definitely a triumph for the rule of law. The essence of the rule of law is that no one – not even a president or former president – is above the law. Like some tinpot dictator of a banana republic, Donald Trump repeatedly tried to argue that he was above the law in this case, as well as others. When the grand jury in this case subpoenaed his financial records, he took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that as president, he did not have to provide the information. The Supreme Court ruled against him. 

Trump argued that he could not be prosecuted in the New York court because he took the actions – writing the checks and falsifying the business records – when he was president. The court rightly rejected this, and the case was tried before a jury. Donald Trump was convicted on all counts because the evidence was overwhelming that he authorised hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, illegally concealed it as business records, and did so to help his campaign.

Legally and constitutionally, Donald Trump could still be the next US president

The legal system worked as it was supposed to, with a fair trial before a conscientious judge. The rule of law was upheld. One of the most profound paradoxes of this case is that former president Trump is accused of sexual transgressions, including sexual assault and adultery, and of lying about these cases, and yet, up to this point, his popularity among evangelical Christian conservatives seems undiminished.

Republican Party leaders and lawmakers, following the old premise of “right or wrong, he’s still my leader”, reacted with anger and fury on the conviction of their presumptive presidential nominee for the coming elections. Many spoke out with near unanimity in questioning the legitimacy of the trial and how it was conducted. House Speaker Mike Johnson said it was a “shameful day in American history” and that the charges were “purely political.” Ohio Senator JD Vance said the verdict was a “disgrace to the judicial system.” And Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said that the decision was “a defeat for Americans who believe in the critical legal tenet that justice is blind.” 

Politically, the unprecedented criminal conviction of a former US president – and presumptive major-party presidential nominee – plunges the nation into uncharted waters as the Republican continues his campaign against the incumbent, President Joe Biden.