The Big Stories: Trump guilty on all 34 counts in hush money trial, and Supreme Court clears way for NRA suit

Gun Rights

Jurors came back with 34 guilty verdicts in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, and the Supreme Court clears the way for the NRA to sue an ex-New York official.


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Former President Donald Trump found guilty of all charges in NYC hush money trial

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A jury of twelve Americans found former President Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in his New York City criminal hush-money trial.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in November’s election, is the first former U.S. president in the nation’s history to be convicted of a crime.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where he will formally be nominated as the GOP’s nominee for president.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by conflicted judge who was corrupt. It was a rigged trial, a disgrace,” Trump said as he exited the courtroom. “The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people, and what happened here everybody knows what happened here.”

“We didn’t do a thing wrong. I’m a very innocent man right now,” Trump continued, adding he will “fight for the Constitution” in “a nation in decline, serious decline.”

In brief remarks, Trump complained that Manhattan was too heavily Democratic and he wasn’t granted a change of venue. He also claimed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was being influenced by George Soros, a Jewish businessman who donates to liberal causes and frequent right-wing bogeyman.

“Today, a jury found Donald J. Trump GUILTY on ALL 34 felony counts,” Bragg posted on social media. He was expected to hold a press conference around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The jury entered the courtroom at 5 p.m. on Thursday after informing Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Juan Merchan about 20 minutes before they had reached a verdict. Merchan read the verdict on each count one by one. He then thanked and dismissed the jury, telling them he would meet with them privately a short while later.

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche immediately moved for a judgment of acquittal based on his claim the verdict was based on alleged perjury by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer. Merchan swiftly denied his motion.

Falsifying business records in New York comes with a maximum prison sentence of four years, though Merchan could also decide for a lesser punishment than prison for the former president who has no other criminal convictions on his record.

Trump has 30 days after sentencing to inform the New York courts he plans to appeal, but the appeals process could drag on for months or even years. It is up to Merchan to decide if Trump will be required to serve his sentence while he fights for his appeal, though a higher court could be asked to rule on that as well. 

The historic criminal trial lasted five weeks and kept Trump off the campaign trail for much of that, required to attend proceedings in person. The jury began deliberations around midday Wednesday and took all day Thursday to decide to find the lifelong New Yorker guilty of nearly three dozen felonies for lying on invoices, checks and ledgers to further a criminal conspiracy to break election laws during his 2016 presidential run.

Trump had pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing, instead claiming without evidence the prosecution was orchestrated by his political enemies — including and especially President Joe Biden — to keep him from returning to power this November. He frequently made his case directly to the press in the halls of the courthouse on breaks and after proceedings ended for the day.

Biden has no role in the prosecutorial decisions of the Manhattan district attorney’s office and refrained from discussing the case publicly as it played out.

The case centered on allegations of infidelity dating back to his decades as a celebrity businessman and tabloid star, and the financial crimes he committed during his first successful run for the White House in 2016 to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for killing her story of an affair. Held nearly 20 years after the alleged affair and eight years after the payments, the trial and conviction holds unprecedented implications for his attempt to return to power eight years later.

Neither being convicted of a crime nor being imprisoned disqualifies a U.S. citizen from running for president. But under Florida law, the state where Trump currently resides, he may not be able to vote.

The case was the first of four separate criminal proceedings to go to trial. A federal case in Washington, D.C., accuses Trump of working to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election, while another in Florida alleges that the ex-president illegally retained classified documents and hampered the government’s efforts to retrieve them. Trump also faces another election case in Georgia related to his alleged efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in the state in 2020.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases against him and denied wrongdoing.

Supreme Court clears way for NRA’s free speech lawsuit against ex-New York official

The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for a National Rifle Association lawsuit against a former New York state official over claims she violated its free-speech rights.

The unanimous opinion reverses a lower-court decision tossing out the gun rights group’s lawsuit against ex-New York state Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo.

It does not, however, shield the NRA and other advocacy groups from regulation, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.

“Ultimately, the critical takeaway is that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech, directly or (as alleged here) through private intermediaries,” she wrote.

The NRA said Vullo pressured banks and insurance companies to blacklist it after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead in 2018. The group was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Biden administration argued some of its claims should go forward.

Vullo argued she rightly investigated NRA-endorsed insurance policies sometimes referred to as “murder insurance.” She said she did speak out about the risks of doing business with gun groups but didn’t exert any improper pressure on companies, many of which were distancing themselves from the NRA on their own at the time.

The NRA said Vullo leveraged a state investigation into the legality of NRA-endorsed insurance products to pressure insurance companies, saying she would go easier on them if they cut ties with the group. The NRA had been working with insurance companies to offer its members policies that covered losses caused by firearms, even when the insured person intentionally killed or hurt somebody.

The products clearly violated state law, Vullo said, including by covering intentional acts and criminal defense costs. The probe started before the Parkland massacre, and the insurance providers ultimately paid multimillion-dollar fines.

Vullo also sent out guidance letters to banks and insurance companies warning about the “reputational risks” of working with the NRA. The NRA said her words had significant sway because of her position and several companies cut ties with the group, costing it millions of dollars in revenue.

Vullo said the letters were evenhanded, and her attorney argued that letting the lawsuit go forward would improperly muzzle public officials.

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