Trump Has Been Convicted in His Hush-Money Case. Now What?

A jury on Thursday found Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records stemming from a payment to keep adult film actress Stormy Daniels quiet about an alleged affair before the 2016 election. Such a verdict is unprecedented, just as it was unprecedented when the former president first stood criminal trial in April, and just as it was unprecedented last spring when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged him with falsifying business records.

The indictment from Bragg was the first of four that have been leveled against Trump, and almost certainly the only that will head to trial before the election. It would also be unprecedented, of course, for a major-party nominee for the nation’s highest office to be a convicted felon. There’s a good chance this will in fact be the case this year, and that you might have a few questions about what it means for the election and beyond.

Can Trump still run for president?

Yes. The only requirements to run for president are being 35 or older, being a natural-born citizen, and being a resident of the United States for 14 years. The nation’s founders did not stipulate that Americans convicted of felonies related to paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair cannot run for president.

Can Trump vote for president?

Probably. Trump is registered to vote in Florida, and convicted felons can only vote in Florida after they’ve completed their sentence — which could mean serving time or simply paying a fine. Trump is unlikely to have completed his sentence by election time for a variety of reasons.

Trump wasn’t convicted in Florida, though, and Florida honors the voting eligibility laws of the state where the conviction occurs. New York only prohibits felons from voting when they are incarcerated, so unless Trump is behind bars on election day — which is unlikely — he’ll probably be able to vote for himself in the Sunshine State.

Will Trump go to prison?

Maybe down the road, but it’s unlikely Trump will wind up behind bars as a result of a guilty conviction in his hush-money case. Yes, he is now a convicted felon, but they’re lower-level felonies and Trump has no previous criminal convictions, which means probation and/or a fine might be the more likely punishment.

Nevertheless, it’s up to Judge Juan Merchan — who has already threatened to jail Trump for violating his gag order — and each of the 34 charges carries a maximum four-year prison sentence and $5,000 fine. It may be unusual for a conviction on these charges alone of someone with a clear record to result in prison time, but nothing about this case is usual.

It might be a while before punishment is meted out, however, as the former president’s legal team — which argues he could never receive a fair trial in New York City and that the prosecution was politically driven — is standing at the ready to rush into the appeals process, which could be lengthy.

For now, however, sentencing has been set for July 11, days before the Republican National Convention kicks off in Milwaukee.

But what if he does go to prison?

Just as there’s nothing in the rule book stating that a dog can’t play basketball, there’s nothing in the Constitution saying someone in prison can’t be elected president.

Trump might not have much recourse if he loses in November, but if he wins there are a number of ways he could leverage the federal government to keep himself out of prison. The Justice Department cases would be easy; he could just tell his hand-picked attorney general to toss them. The state cases are more difficult — as Rolling Stone reported last week, he’s currently lobbying Congress to pass a law that would protect the president from non-federal prosecution.

Is Trump planning to take revenge?

Trump has long teased that he will weaponize the Justice Department against his political enemies if wins back the White House, and Rolling Stone reported last year that his team has already trained its crosshairs on Bragg. Their sights have continued to focus on the Manhattan district attorney as the case has progressed.

“Mark my word: Alvin Bragg, [prosecutor] Matthew Colangelo, and many others will face criminal prosecution,” Mike Davis, a lawyer and Trump ally, posted to X, formerly Twitter, in early May. (Members of Trump’s inner sanctum have frequently discussed Davis as a top contender for senior roles, including at the Justice Department, in a possible second Trump administration.)

Davis’ words reflect a pervasive desire among the MAGA and GOP elite to go after those responsible for Trump’s legal woes, with an array of attorneys and other Republicans close to Trump drawing up preliminary plans for different ways that the Justice Department could investigate or charge Bragg and other prosecutors who’ve brought cases against the ex-president, numerous sources tell Rolling Stone. Since last year, lawyers and others with Trump’s ear have privately briefed him — sometimes during parties at his club and estate — on these retributive legal ideas, with Trump at times offering enthusiastic praise in response, sources add. In some instances, Trump has solicited more ideas. These discussions have continued well into 2024.

Among the ideas batted about by MAGA’s legal brain trust, at times when Trump himself has been in the room, include the Justice Department deploying federal statutes, including Section 242 and Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, to investigate or prosecute Bragg for allegedly violating Trump’s constitutional and civil rights.

Another popular idea in the upper echelons of Trumpland is for the Justice Department to criminally charge Bragg and other prosecutors for so-called “election interference.” This would exploit a different part of the criminal code that prohibits officials from using their “authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of president.”

In April 2023, Trump, in front of a cheering crowd, gave another reason when he publicly called for the district attorney to be prosecuted, claiming Bragg “illegally leaked massive amounts” of grand-jury information.

But when confronted with this in a Time magazine interview this year, Trump tried to say he never called for Bragg’s prosecution, even though Trump did so on camera and in front of an audience.

How will Trump respond publicly?

The same way he’s been responding to the trial itself, by alleging that the case is part of a political conspiracy orchestrated by President Joe Biden to hurt Trump’s chances of defeating him in November. Trump has already been fundraising aggressively off his indictments — including by splashing his mugshot in Georgia across merchandise — and he will continue to do so if he is convicted in New York.

Advisers and allies close to Trump are convinced that the Manhattan jury pool won’t be kind to Trump, and many of the former president’s aides, lawyers, and political collaborators have long viewed a conviction as a foregone conclusion. They have been preparing accordingly.

Namely, his 2024 campaign has prebaked an aggressive fundraising blitz that will give him ample opportunity to scream “WITCH HUNT,” “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” and all of the other tag lines he’s used to paint himself as a victim.

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