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Here’s what you should know about Donald Trump’s conviction in his hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts marks the end of the former president’s historic hush money trial but the fight over the case is far from over.

Now comes the sentencing and the prospect of a prison sentence. A lengthy appellate process. And all the while, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee still has to deal with three more criminal cases and a campaign that could see him return to the White House.

The Manhattan jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business records after more than nine hours of deliberations over two days in the case stemming from a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump angrily denounced the trial as a “disgrace,” telling reporters he’s an “innocent man.”

Some key takeaways from the jury’s decision:

PRISON TIME?

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 him for president.

The charge of falsifying business records is a Class E felony in New York, the lowest tier of felony charges in the state. It is punishable by up to four years in prison, though the punishment would ultimately be up to the judge and there’s no guarantee he would give Trump time bars.

It’s unclear to what extent the judge may factor in the political and logistical complexities of jailing a former president who is running to reclaim the White House. Other punishments could include a fine or probation. And it’s possible the judge would allow Trump to avoid serving any punishment until after he exhausts his appeals.

The conviction doesn’t also bar Trump from continuing his campaign. Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who serves as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said in a Fox News Channel interview on Thursday that if Trump is convicted and sentenced to home confinement, he would do virtual rallies and campaign events.

“We’ll have to play the hand that we’re dealt,” she said, according to an interview transcript.

AVENUES FOR APPEAL

After Trump is sentenced, he can challenge his conviction in an appellate division of the state’s trial court and possibly, the state’s highest court. Trump’s lawyers have already been laying the groundwork for appeals with objections to the charges and rulings at trial.

The defense has accused the judge of bias, citing his daughter’s work heading a firm whose clients have included President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democrats. The judge refused the defense’s request to remove himself from the case, saying he was certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”

Trump’s lawyers may also raise on appeal the judge’s ruling limiting the testimony of a potential defense expert witness. The defense wanted to call Bradley Smith, a Republican law professor who served on the Federal Election Commission, to rebut the prosecution’s contention that the hush money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations.

But the defense ended up not having him testify after the judge ruled he could give general background on the FEC but can’t interpret how federal campaign finance laws apply to the facts of Trump’s case or opine on whether Trump’s alleged actions violate those laws. There are often guardrails around expert testimony on legal matters, on the basis that it’s up to a judge — not an expert hired by one side or the other — to instruct jurors on applicable laws.

The defense may also argue that jurors were improperly allowed to hear sometimes graphic testimony from porn actor Stormy Daniels about her alleged sexual encounter with him in 2006. The defense unsuccessfully pushed for a mistrial over the tawdry details prosecutors elicited from Daniels. Defense lawyer Todd Blanche argued Daniels’ description of a power imbalance with the older, taller Trump, was a “dog whistle for rape,” irrelevant to the charges at hand, and “the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from.”

A SPARSE DEFENSE

The former president’s lawyers called just two witnesses in a sparse defense case, including attorney and former federal prosecutor Robert Costello. The defense sought to use Costello to discredit prosecutors’ star witness, Michael Cohen, the Trump attorney-turned-adversary who directly implicated Trump in the hush money scheme. But the move may have backfired in devastating fashion because it opened the door for prosecutors to question Costello about a purported pressure campaign aimed at keeping Cohen loyal to Trump after the FBI raided Cohen’s property in April 2018.

While Costello buoyed the defense by testifying that Cohen denied to him that Trump knew anything about the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels, Costello had few answers when prosecutor Susan Hoffinger confronted him with emails he sent to Cohen in which he repeatedly dangled his close ties to Trump-ally Rudy Giuliani. In one email, Costello told Cohen: “Sleep well tonight. you have friends in high places,” and relayed that there were “some very positive comments about you from the White House.”

Cohen largely kept his cool on the witness stand in the face of heated cross-examination by the defense, who tried to paint him as a liar with a vendetta against his former boss. The curt, pugnacious Costello, on the other hand, aggravated the judge — at times in view of the jury — but continuing to speak after objections and rolling his eyes. At one point, after sending the jury out of the room, the judge became enraged when he said Costello was staring him down. Merchan then briefly cleared the courtroom of reporters and scolded Costello, warning that if he acted out again, he’d be removed from the courtroom and his testimony would be stricken.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR A LOSS

While projecting confidence, Trump and his campaign also spent weeks trying to undermine the case ahead of a potential conviction. He repeatedly called the whole system “rigged” — a term he used to similarly used to falsely describe the election he lost to President Joe Biden in 2020.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charge,” he said Wednesday, invoking the Catholic nun and saint as jury deliberations began.

Trump has lambasted the judge, insulted Bragg, and complained about members of the prosecution team. He has tried to paint the case as nothing more than a politically-motivated witch hunt.

Trump’s criticism also extended to choices seemingly made by his own legal team. He railed that “a lot of key witnesses were not called” by the prosecution — even though his side chose to call only two witnesses.

He has also complained about being restricted from speaking about aspects of the case by a gag order, but chose not to take the stand. Instead of testifying in the case — and subjecting himself to the inherent risks of perjury and cross examination, Trump has focused on the court of public opinion and the voters who will ultimately decide his fate.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE ELECTION

In a deeply divided America, it’s unclear whether Trump’s once-imaginable status as a person convicted of a felony will have any impact at all on the election.

Leading strategists in both parties believe that Trump still remains well-positioned to defeat Biden, even as he now faces the prospect of a prison sentence and three separate criminal cases still outstanding. In the short term, at least, there were immediate signs that the guilty verdict was helping to unify the Republican Party’s disparate factions as GOP officials across the political spectrum rallied behind their embattled presumptive presidential nominee and his campaign expected to benefit from a flood of fundraising dollars.

There has been some polling conducted on the prospect of a guilty verdict, although such hypothetical scenarios are notoriously difficult to predict. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found that only 4% of Trump’s supporters said they would withdraw their support if he’s convicted of a felony, though another 16% said they would reconsider it.

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Richer reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Steve Peoples and Jennifer Peltz contributed from New York.

Michael R. Sisak, Jill Colvin, Michelle L. Price And Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press



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