Donald Trump Found Guilty On All Counts In New York Criminal Hush Money Trial

NEW YORK — A jury of 12 New Yorkers on Thursday found former President Donald Trump guilty on all 34 charges of falsifying business documents to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with porn actor Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

The jury foreperson, a man with close-cropped graying hair, stood to deliver the verdict before a tense courtroom.

“Guilty,” he said of the first charge. He then repeated that word 33 more times.

New York state Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan set Trump’s sentencing hearing for July 11, just four days before the Republican National Convention, where he is expected to accept the party’s presidential nomination.

The charges, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, spawned the first-ever criminal trial of a U.S. president in the country’s nearly 250 year history. Each count carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison, although the judge has previously signaled a reluctance to put Trump behind bars due to the logistical difficulties of doing so.

The case is also notable because it could be the only one of four criminal cases against Trump to go before a jury prior to the 2024 presidential election.

Trump denied Daniels’ allegation and pleaded not guilty to all 34 charges.

The jury consisted of five women and seven men, with two being working lawyers. Each of the charges corresponded to a document that had allegedly been falsified — either a check, an invoice or a voucher.

Trump exited the courthouse with a darkened expression.

“I’m a very innocent man,” he said in the hallway. Trump had made a habit of speaking to the cameras after every day in court.

Closing arguments were delivered Tuesday in the trial after about five weeks of witness testimony from 22 individuals, all but two of them called by the prosecution.

“President Trump is innocent,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the jury in his closing argument. “He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period.”

The porn actor and Michael Cohen, a now-disbarred attorney once steadfastly loyal to Trump, provided some of the most engrossing testimony against the former president. But other days of the trial were comparatively dull, underscoring how the case ultimately came down to a collection of business records.

Though Trump was barred by a gag order from making public comments about the trial, that did not stop him. Merchan was moved to fine the former president $10,000 for assorted violations made toward the start of the trial, warning him that additional violations could result in jail time, although the judge said he did not want to give such an order.

Former President Donald Trump leaves the courtroom Thursday after being found guilty on all 34 counts in his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court. Trump has become the first former U.S. president to be convicted of felony crimes.
Former President Donald Trump leaves the courtroom Thursday after being found guilty on all 34 counts in his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court. Trump has become the first former U.S. president to be convicted of felony crimes. Justin Lane/Pool via Getty Images

Daniels took the stand to tell the jury about the encounter that allegedly occurred when she and Trump appeared at a golf tournament in 2006 on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. In testimony that more than once prompted Merchan to urge Daniels to limit the length of her responses, she told of being invited up to Trump’s penthouse suite, where Trump, whose wife, Melania, had recently given birth, told her that she reminded him of his smart, blond-haired daughter. She said the plan was to go to dinner together at a restaurant but that they ended up not going. Instead, she testified, Trump pressured her into sex after dangling an opportunity to appear on “The Apprentice,” his reality TV show.

Prosecutors allowed Daniels to recount some salacious details of the alleged sexual encounter to illustrate how damaging the story might have been to Trump if it had become public before the 2016 election.

“To be sure, there were parts of her testimony that were cringeworthy,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said in his closing argument. But they were necessary to ward off the suggestion that she was making things up, he said.

“Those are the kind of details, though, that I submit to you that kind of ring true. They’re the kind of details you expect someone to remember,” Steinglass told the jury.

Trump’s team unsuccessfully moved for a mistrial in response to Daniels’ testimony. Merchan said that although he wished the jury did not hear some of Daniels’ remarks, he did not understand why the defense did not lodge more objections as she spoke. It was one of several moments in which the judge appeared irritated by Trump’s attorneys.

In the days before Daniels took the stand, Keith Davidson, her former attorney, testified about how interest in the rights to her story spiked in early October 2016, when The Washington Post published the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of being able to get away with sexual assault. In the sleazy tabloid marketplace of potential scandals, Daniels suddenly became a hot item. The concept of buying and selling stories, or “checkbook journalism,” had been introduced to jurors by David Pecker, a publishing CEO who testified that he agreed to use supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer to help boost Trump’s 2016 campaign.

While the “Access Hollywood” scandal may seem quaint now, given the Republican Party’s ultimate refusal to disown Trump even after he fomented the deadly U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, it was a big deal at the time. Many of Trump’s fellow Republicans called for him to drop out of the race; a former Republican National Committee staffer testified earlier this month about the possibility that the party would replace Trump as its nominee.

The “Access Hollywood” recording was not played in court, as Merchan felt that hearing the ugly words in Trump’s own voice — “grab ’em by the pussy” — might prejudice the jury against him. But the tape was allowed to be quoted, and its impact was discussed at length. Hope Hicks, who was Trump’s 2016 campaign spokesperson, testified about the deep concern that ran through his staff after the tape’s release. Several of Trump’s various denials were shown in court and heard by the jury.

When a story in The Wall Street Journal broke just a few days before the 2016 election discussing an alleged hush money payment, Hicks recalled the response from Trump: Deny it.

The most well-positioned witness to speak about Trump’s state of mind, of course, was Cohen, who was at the time Trump’s personal attorney and fixer. According to Cohen, then-candidate Trump knew his popularity among female voters was dangerously lagging.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to the Manhattan criminal court on May 16. The prosecutors’ star witness in the hush money case against Donald Trump was returning to the witness stand for cross-examination by the defense.
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to the Manhattan criminal court on May 16. The prosecutors’ star witness in the hush money case against Donald Trump was returning to the witness stand for cross-examination by the defense. Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Cohen recalled Trump’s response to hearing that Daniels wanted her story made public: “This is a disaster. A total disaster. Women are going to hate me.”

“Guys may think it’s cool, but this is a disaster for the campaign,” Cohen recalled him saying.

He then spent hours testifying about how he handled the situation for Trump, affirming repeatedly that his actions were intended to benefit his boss and that his boss always knew what he was doing.

The defense hit back against Cohen’s credibility at every opportunity, suggesting that he had gone rogue in paying off Daniels and was lying on the stand for the express purpose of helping put Trump behind bars. The fact that Cohen was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges relating to the Daniels scheme and the lies he told Congress in 2017 testimony was repeatedly used against him.

Early on in the trial, prosecutors had sought to head off the argument that Cohen didn’t tell Trump he was paying Daniels a large sum of money. They showed jurors many excerpts from Trump’s books about him going to great lengths to keep an eye on both his employees and his company expenses. They also asked Cohen to explain how he once looked up to Trump and admired him but had become disillusioned in 2018, when federal investigators raided his home and office.

A trickier task was proving that Cohen informed Trump every step of the way while making the payment and organizing the reimbursement scheme, as Trump is famously email-averse and sometimes spoke to people using his bodyguard’s phone.

Over the course of the trial, jurors saw a lot of texts and emails between the various figures involved: Davidson discussing the sale of Trump-related stories with National Enquirer Editor-in-Chief Dylan Howard, who did not appear at the trial; Davidson discussing Daniels’ story with Gina Rodriguez, her manager; and Cohen and Davidson discussing Daniels.

Prosecutors used a secret recording that Cohen had made of a conversation between himself and Trump, along with other phone records and documentation, to help persuade jurors that Cohen was working on Trump’s direct orders.

Blanche, Trump’s attorney, appeared able to land a soft punch against one of those phone records: an Oct. 24, 2016, call that Cohen placed to Keith Schiller, the bodyguard. Schiller was usually near Trump, so that could be a reliable way of getting ahold of him, Cohen testified. An image produced by the prosecution showed Trump and Schiller together that very day.

Yet Blanche was able to get Cohen to affirm that he also spent part of that call talking about harassing phone calls he was receiving at the time from a random teen, suggesting that the short length of the Oct. 24 call — 90 seconds — would have left little room for discussing the Daniels payment.

But Cohen also told the jury that he was used to making this kind of short call to update Trump on business matters and he did not need much time to do so.

“Always ran everything by the boss immediately,” Cohen testified, adding that it could be a short message, like “everything’s taken care of.”

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations Thursday.
Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations Thursday. Steven Hirsch/New York Post/ Pool via Associated Press

Steinglass used part of his closing argument to act out the call as it might have happened, doing so in just 46 seconds.

Cohen said that he ultimately put up a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels using his own funds and was reimbursed months later: $130,000 for the money given to Daniels, plus $50,000 for other campaign expenses — with both amounts then doubled to account for taxes — as well as a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000. Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, had to account for taxes in the reimbursement scheme because it would come in the form of income, Cohen said.

Trump personally signed the majority of the checks in the Oval Office — the documents bearing his signature were displayed one after the other for jurors. The trial seemed to drag the most during the hours prosecutors spent recounting the checks’ journey from New York’s Trump Tower to the White House and then out for delivery; several former Trump Organization and White House staffers took the stand to fill in these gaps.

The defense offered an alternative explanation for the checks: They were meant to compensate Cohen for his work as a personal attorney to the president throughout 2017. But Steinglass hit back on this, saying it would be quite a coincidence for the checks to total the precise sum of $420,000. He also pointed out how Cohen was not paid for his work as personal attorney to the president in early 2018, despite still serving in that role.

When the prosecution finally rested, the defense chose to call just two witnesses — neither one being Trump, despite the weeks he spent pledging to testify.

The defense witnesses took aim at Cohen’s credibility, focusing specifically on the period of time in 2018 when Cohen was panicking about the FBI raid and the specter of imprisonment.

At the time, Cohen had several meetings and phone calls with attorney Robert Costello, who had close ties to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. Email evidence showed how Costello proposed a “back channel” between Cohen and Trump, with Giuliani as a conduit. But Cohen ultimately did not hire Costello, he said, because he could not trust him.

He testified that he felt there was a “pressure campaign” coming from the Trump White House to dissuade him from cooperating with federal investigators, even if that was in his best interests.

Ultimately, he said, it was his family that persuaded him to turn on Trump.

“My wife, my daughter, my son all said to me: ‘Why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be [your] first loyalty,’” Cohen testified. “It was about time to listen to them.”

Costello tried to paint Cohen as an erratic man. He was one of two witnesses who said that Cohen had seemed suicidal in the wake of the 2018 federal raid. But Costello also angered the judge, undermining his purpose on the stand.

At one point, Merchan ordered the jury to leave the room so he could chastise Costello for saying things like “jeez” and rolling his eyes after hearing Merchan’s rulings on which questions Costello could answer.

Then, Merchan said, “Are you staring me down?”

He cleared the courtroom of reporters.

Judge Juan Merchan castigates witness Robert Costello about his
Judge Juan Merchan castigates witness Robert Costello about his "decorum" in the courtroom in Manhattan criminal court on May 20. Elizabeth Williams via Associated Press

According to the court record, Merchan proceeded to inform Costello that his behavior was “contemptuous” and put him on notice.

Trump’s team spent the bulk of its three-hour closing argument continuing to malign Cohen’s credibility.

“He lied to you repeatedly,” Blanche told the jury. “He lied many, many times before you even met him. His financial and personal well-being will depend on this case. He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true.”

In a play on the sports term “GOAT” for “greatest of all time,” Blanche said that Cohen was the “GLOAT” — or “greatest liar of all time.”

Steinglass said that he was not asking anybody to “feel bad for Michael Cohen.”

“He made his bed,” the prosecutor said.

Ultimately, he argued, jurors should find Trump guilty because he was the only one who benefited from the scheme to cover up the true purpose of the payment to Daniels.

“The false business record benefited one person and one person only, and that is the defendant,” Steinglass said.

“You’ve got to look at the evidence as a whole, and when you do you’ll see that the people have proven this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”