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Guilty: Trump Becomes First Ex-President Felon in U.S. History

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Guilty on all 34 felony counts — that’s the historic verdict delivered Thursday by a New York jury in former President Donald Trump’s hush money and election fraud criminal trial. Trump was charged with falsifying business records to cover up payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in order to protect his 2016 presidential campaign and is now the first former president to be convicted of a felony, facing the possibility of up to four years in prison. Judge Juan Merchan set his sentencing date on July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention, where Trump will become the party’s official presidential nominee. Trump, who can still be president as a convicted felon, slammed the verdict as a “disgrace,” and his defense team plans to appeal. We speak with criminal defense attorney Ron Kuby, who followed the case closely and says there was a “tsunami of circumstantial evidence” that supported the prosecution’s case. “The defense never posed any sort of realistic counternarrative,” says Kuby.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After three weeks of testimony and two days of deliberations, former President Donald Trump’s hush money election fraud criminal trial ended Thursday with a historic verdict. This is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

ALVIN BRAGG: Today we have the most important voice of all, and that’s the voice of the jurors. They have spoken. Donald J. Trump has been convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, former President Donald Trump has been found guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up payments made to Stormy Daniels in order to protect his 2016 presidential campaign. He’s the first former president to be convicted of a felony and faces up to four years in prison, though Judge Juan Merchan could instead impose a fine, probation or supervision. Trump’s defense team said it plans to appeal. Merchan set Trump’s sentencing date for July 11th, four days before the Republican National Convention, where Trump will become the party’s official presidential nominee.

At the courthouse in downtown Manhattan, Trump slammed the verdict as a disgrace.

DONALD TRUMP: The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people. And they know what happened here, and everybody knows what happened here. You have a Soros-backed DA. And the whole thing, we didn’t do a thing wrong. I’m a very innocent man.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s campaign said the verdict shows no one is above the law. Trump also faces three more criminal cases.

We begin our coverage of Trump’s historic conviction with Ron Kuby, criminal defense and civil rights lawyer based here in New York.

Ron, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your response?

RON KUBY: Thank you.

I was not surprised by the verdict. I was surprised that it came back as quickly as it did. Most of us who had been privately speculating speculated that it would be late afternoon today, Friday, at the very earliest, if not next week.

In thinking about it, you know, especially having the luxury of knowing what the verdict is, the prosecutor told this remarkably compelling story, over a six-hour period — I mean, he could have cut it down a bit. But he started at the very beginning, with the conspiracy, how it was formed, who was in the room; brought in all the witnesses; integrated every piece of evidence; responded to the defense arguments in the process; and finished and really gave the jury, you know, an entire script that they could follow, if they chose to do so. And they did choose to do that. And since all of the charges stemmed from basically the same thing —

AMY GOODMAN: Which was?

RON KUBY: Which was this falsification of business records for the purpose of concealing another crime. Once the jury found guilty on one count, it was very easy to find him guilty of all 34.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you had those checks that President Trump signed with a Sharpie.

RON KUBY: Sharpie.

AMY GOODMAN: Famous, nine of the checks that were sent to Michael Cohen. Now, the defense had argued that Michael Cohen was a thief and a liar. But the prosecution said, you know, we don’t get to actually always choose the perfect witness; he’s basically a tour guide through the documents, they described.

RON KUBY: Well, that’s — I think the prosecution minimized his role somewhat. There were a couple of — the only person who could directly tie Trump to full knowledge of the hush money payments was Michael Cohen. But there was this, you know, tsunami of circumstantial evidence tying Trump to causing these payments to be made and these false entries to be made. And the jury very much relied on that. And the defense never posed any sort of realistic counternarrative. That is, OK, if this isn’t, you know, would-be President Trump doing all of this in order to gain an election advantage by paying off a porn star and people not knowing, finding out about it, just what is it? Just somehow explain it. And the defense never even came close to providing an alternative explanation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump has become a felon. What does that mean, even before the sentencing? And then, what do you expect on July 11th?

RON KUBY: Well, one thing it means is he cannot own a firearm. Now, OK, he can become commander-in-chief and can, you know, declare nuclear war, but he cannot personally own a firearm. It doesn’t really change much in terms of his legal liabilities and the like. Mostly what it does is he’s now introduced as convicted felon Trump.

He faces sentencing on July 11th. And while even if he is sentenced to prison time, which I do expect that he will get some sort of carceral sentence, it will undoubtedly be stayed pending multiple appeals, thanks to New York’s very liberal bail laws, which the right wing usually attacks, but now I know somebody who’s pretty happy that they exist on the books.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, let’s talk about what that means, July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. If he was sentenced even to a week, he would miss the convention, if he was frogmarched out of the courthouse into jail.

RON KUBY: That’s right, but he would not be so frogmarched. He would receive a stay, either from Judge Merchan or from an appellate judge, until his appeal can be perfected. And there are many appeals after that. So, I think it’s important to realize that, yes, Judge Merchan, in my opinion, is likely to impose a jail sentence, but no one is going to hear the steel door slam shut behind him for a long time pending various appeals.

AMY GOODMAN: Can he vote?

RON KUBY: He can.


RON KUBY: He can, because he is a New York — this is a New York conviction. And so, right now, as of today — it could change. In Florida, Florida looks to New York’s disenfranchisement law, so the only way he can’t vote in Florida is if he is actually in prison in New York on Election Day.

AMY GOODMAN: And in a future show, we’re going to look at those voter rights around the country and what happens to not just prisoners, but people who are free. Maybe he could be sentenced to home arrest or whatever. But under probation and parole, what are people’s rights? I mean, in Vermont, you can vote from prison. In other places, you can’t vote for the rest of your life if you’ve ever gone to prison, if you’ve been convicted of a felony.

RON KUBY: And something that probably has yet to fully dawn on Trump’s legal team is he remains under the carceral control of Judge Merchan. He is a defendant out on release pending sentencing, and ultimately pending appeal, but Merchan maintains control over him. So, if he goes out and commits other crimes, for example, the judge can impose additional restrictions on him or even do what the right wing has encouraged people to do with serial committers of crimes: lock him up.

AMY GOODMAN: You mention that President Trump can run for president as a felon and be president as a felon, but he can’t own a firearm.

RON KUBY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: If he became president, could he change that law?

RON KUBY: Well, Congress would actually have to change that law. That’s —

AMY GOODMAN: He could lobby for it. Or executive order?

RON KUBY: No, no. There’s positive law prohibiting a felon from possessing a firearm.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain why he couldn’t pardon himself, if he were president.

RON KUBY: The presidential pardon power applies to all offenses under federal law, except treason and impeachment. It has no application to offenses committed under various state laws. The only person who can pardon President Trump in New York state is Governor Kathy Hochul.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he could pardon himself in the federal documents case.


AMY GOODMAN: He could pardon himself in the interference case.


AMY GOODMAN: Jack Smith’s case. But not in the Georgia case that’s upcoming under Fani Willis, that DA, and not in this case, under Alvin Bragg?

RON KUBY: Excellent. You’ve got it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Alvin Bragg and the significance of what he did today. Grew up not so far from President Trump, in Harlem, went to Harvard, Harvard Law School, came out. And some criticized him for not moving faster on Trump. Others said — of course, Trump himself — that he had been after him from the beginning. In fact, he skips over Bragg and talks about Biden, that this is an unfair Biden circus. How is Alvin Bragg related to Biden?

RON KUBY: Their last names both start with “B.” There’s no relationship there. And Alvin Bragg’s career trajectory is not a trajectory of a traditional politician or somebody interested in seeking higher office. He won district attorney as a criminal justice reformer. He’s done some good work in that area. He’s not a headline seeker in any fashion. He’s always remained sort of out of the spotlight, relatively humble, not talking a lot about the cases.

And I always thought this was a very solid case from the beginning. It wasn’t the big, grand case that Trump haters wanted, but it was a good, solid case based not on presidential abuse of power or presidential authority, but based really on a common, tawdry, dirty little grift.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, summarize what he was found guilty of 34 times.

RON KUBY: He was found guilty of 34 counts of falsification of business records for the purpose of concealing the commission of another crime. That is, every time they made a bookkeeping entry showing that Michael Cohen was being paid for legal services or signed a check for legal services, Trump knew and caused those entries to be fraudulent. And he did that for the purpose of concealing election law violations.

AMY GOODMAN: And that election law violation?

RON KUBY: Well, that would be various either federal or state campaign contributions or conspiracy to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. You don’t have to actually prove that he committed those crimes. You don’t have to prove those crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. You just have to prove that the concealment was done in order to conceal the commission of those crimes. And let’s face it, people don’t cook their books just for fun. Usually when they cook their books, they’re trying to cover up some other misdeed. There’s well-established law about this. Usually in New York, the federal crime that they’re committing is a Securities and Exchange Commission violation, very common, regularly prosecuted. And something similar was charged here. It wasn’t some way far-out, tenuous legal theory.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to talk about the significance of the first former president to be convicted as a felon in a moment. Ron Kuby, we want to thank you so much.

RON KUBY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: A criminal defense lawyer and civil rights attorney based here in New York.

Next up, we’ll speak more about what’s next for Trump and his supporters with professor Manisha Sinha, historian of U.S. politics, slavery, abolition, the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Back in 20 seconds.

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