Trump readies effort to discredit hush money verdict

Trump readies effort to discredit hush money verdict

Former President Trump is laying the groundwork to discredit a conviction or capitalize on an acquittal in his hush money trial in New York City ahead of a looming verdict.

Trump has for months berated Judge Juan Merchan as conflicted and bashed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as politically motivated, and he has relentlessly decried the proceedings as “rigged.” Trump has only escalated that messaging strategy as the jury deliberates following weeks of witness testimony.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. These charges are rigged. The whole country’s a mess, between the borders and fake elections, and you have a trial like this where the judge is so conflicted he can’t breathe,” Trump said Wednesday minutes after the case was turned over to the jury.

“It’s a disgrace. And I mean that. Mother Teresa could not beat those charges. But we’ll see. We’ll see how we do,” he added.

The message from Trump echoes the same tactics he used around the 2020 election, when he spent weeks casting doubt on the reliability of mail-in voting and refused to commit to accepting the election results, ultimately dismissing his defeat as the result of a “rigged” process despite no evidence of widespread fraud.

Verdict reached: Trump found guilty on all 34 counts in hush money case

Experts and strategists said Trump’s rhetoric around the trial allows him to spin a verdict either way: If Trump is found guilty, he and his allies will say he was facing a biased judge and a trial stacked against him. If he is acquitted, Trump will declare he beat the charges despite the “rigged” circumstances.

“He’s in a no-lose position,” said Michael Eric Dyson, the renowned historian and author.

He said if Trump is not convicted, he’ll be a hero to his side. And if he is convicted, he becomes a “martyr.”

“If he wins, it’s ‘What did I tell you?’ And if he gets convicted, then it’s ‘rigged,’” Dyson said.

Live Updates: Jury finds Trump guilty on 34 counts; first president convicted of felony

Opening arguments in Trump’s trial began on April 22.

The former president has attended court nearly every day since then, and he’s been at work prepping for whatever happens with the jury.

Each morning before court, and most evenings after it’s adjourned, Trump has addressed cameras outside the courtroom to rail against the case as political interference by Democrats, to blast the judge as “conflicted” and to claim there was no crime committed.

“It’s all rigged. The whole thing, the whole system is rigged,” Trump told reporters Thursday.

Contrary to Trump’s frequent claims, there is no evidence the Biden White House had a hand in the New York trial. And Judge Merchan rejected a push from Trump’s team to have him recused from the case, saying the motion relied on “a series of references, innuendos and unsupported speculation.”

Trump is facing the possibility of becoming the first U.S. president to be convicted of a felony if he is found guilty. He is facing additional criminal cases in Washington, D.C.; Georgia; and Florida, though none of those are currently on track to go to trial before Election Day.

That has raised the stakes of the New York trial, and polling has shown there is a sliver of voters who said they would be less likely to vote for Trump if he is convicted, though a majority say the outcome won’t affect their vote.

“He’ll spin the verdict to exactly what he wants,” said one Democratic strategist who expressed concern that while the criminal trials were important, they would ultimately lose meaning because of the man at the center of them. “This is a meta moment because it means so much, and ultimately, because of him and the spin he’ll put on this, it might mean nothing.”

It’s reminiscent of the weeks after the 2020 election, when Trump refused to concede that he’d lost to President Biden. Instead, he alleged there was widespread fraud and that the election was “rigged.” Multiple recounts in swing states confirmed the results, and several lawsuits were tossed out for lack of evidence or standing.

Trump’s rhetoric following the election came to a head on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters violently stormed the Capitol to try and halt the certification of the election results.

Trump has continued to claim the election was rigged in 2020, and he has said he would accept the 2024 results “if everything’s honest.”

Just as Trump’s language around elections has rattled confidence in basic institutions, some officials have raised concerns that Trump’s rhetoric around the trial is meant to weaken confidence in the legal system.

“I think there’s a danger of questioning the integrity of all of our legal institutions this way,” John Bolton, a former Trump national security adviser who later broke with the former president, said on CNN. “And Trump only cares about Trump. He doesn’t care if the institutions rise or fall. He just wants to know what Donald Trump’s fate is going to be.”

Some Democrats have also criticized Trump.

“To save himself, he’s trying to kill Americans’ faith in our system of justice, turning us against judges, prosecutors & any police who in doing their duty get in his way. This matters way more than the trial itself,” former Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) posted on the social platform X.

Democratic strategist Joel Payne said even if Trump attempts to spin the verdict, it would still do damage to the former president in the long run.

“Almost as important as the legal consequences of a guilty verdict for Donald Trump would be the consequences to his brand,” Payne said. “The investment and insistence on never acknowledging defeat is a key feature of his political persona. The major difference is this isn’t a ballot box, this is a court of law. You can’t manifest or rhetoric your way out of a guilty felony verdict.”

Payne said “time will tell” if Trump’s spin will work.

“But we know there is a population of general election voters who have consistently said that a guilty verdict will impact their vote,” he added.

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