What happens if Trump gets convicted ahead of November?

What happens if Trump gets convicted ahead of November?

The first-ever criminal trial of a current or former U.S. president is underway in Manhattan, renewing questions over what a potential conviction would mean for former President Trump as he campaigns for the White House.

A conviction in the New York case, where Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, wouldn’t bar him from the presidential race, but it still could roil his 2024 bid and open up the possibility that this year’s GOP nominee is a convicted felon.

“If he happens to be convicted on 34 counts, that takes its toll even on someone like Donald Trump, who seems to be that Teflon candidate,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor and a mediator for the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jury selection for the historic trial — the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to reach a jury — happened this week in Manhattan, where the court narrowed down hundreds of New Yorkers to 12 jurors and six alternates who will consider the former president’s fate.

The case relates to the 2016 election, when Trump won his first term in office. Trump’s then-fixer, Michael Cohen, made a $130,000 payment during the 2016 cycle to porn actor Stormy Daniels, aimed at silencing her allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump roughly a decade earlier. Trump, who denies the affair, reimbursed Cohen, and his company logged those as legal expenses. The Manhattan district attorney argues that was unlawful.

Legally, the former president — who has clinched the delegates he needs for the Republican nomination — would still be able to run for federal office even if the jury decides to convict him in the hush money case, experts say.

And politically, as Trump continues to cast his legal woes as politically motivated, the trial and ultimate verdict isn’t likely to change the minds of 2024 voters already firmly in his camp. Trump argues he’s done nothing wrong in this and his other cases.

“He’s the only person in America who could probably be charged in four different cases and have his popularity among his base go up, because the base is already convinced that he’s affected, that he’s being targeted,” Saltzburg said.

Still, a conviction would brand him a felon — and that could turn off some key voters, including independents and some law-and-order Republicans.

“If he emerges from the trial a convicted felon … I don’t think that that’s going to play well with the independent voters, even though they may not be a huge population,” Saltzburg said. “People will hesitate, I think, before they vote for a convicted felon.”

new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found an increasing share of independent voters think the hush money case involves a “serious crime” — 51 percent of all voters in the poll said Trump should not be allowed to serve again if convicted in that case, a figure that included 16 percent of Republicans.

A poll released earlier this year from Bloomberg and Morning Consult also found that 53 percent of voters in key swing states would refuse to vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime, and that number ticked up to 55 percent if he were sentenced to prison.

“We’re in an unprecedented time in American politics,” Republican strategist Matthew Bartlett said. “Courtroom trials are colliding with the campaign trail.”

“People who hate Trump think he did this and throw the book at him, ‘no one is above the law,’” Bartlett said. “People that love Trump believe that he should not be charged, he’s being persecuted. You will continue to see that play out and deepen and engage and enrage on both sides of the aisle. Those in the middle, we will see what happens.”

At the same time, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that fewer voters considered the hush money case as serious when compared to the other three crimes of which Trump’s been accused.

Trump was indicted last year on federal criminal charges related to mishandling classified materials after the end of his White House tenure, and again over alleged efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. In a Georgia case, he and other defendants have been charged with conspiring to overturn his 2020 loss in the state.

There’s also one key complication of a conviction that could embarrass Trump in his home state: He might not be able to cast a 2024 ballot in Florida.

“It would be ironic if he wasn’t able to vote,” said Tamara Lave, a former public defender and a law professor at the University of Miami in the Sunshine State. “But you can just imagine how he would parlay that into, you know, ‘I can’t vote, so vote for me.’”

Half a year out from Election Day, Trump will have to be in court four days a week for as long as the trial runs, forcing his campaign to make the most of weekend events, virtual appearances and the trial’s widespread media coverage to boost Trump in the White House race. President Biden, on the other hand, is free to hit the campaign trail.

The incumbent “absolutely needs to take advantage of what is happening,” said Lave — but Biden will also have to walk a careful line as his rival cries “witch hunt.”

An acquittal in New York, noted Saltzburg, could leave people “discounting” Trump’s other cases, giving him a bigger boost in the 2024 race.

It may be some time before the Manhattan jury makes a decision. The trial is expected to last several weeks, and there’s room for legal complications and delays along the way. It’s also a dice roll on how long the jury deliberates — and in the case of a conviction, the judge would have to decide on sentencing.

Democrats hope a long-running trial takes the wind out of Trump’s sails and gives Biden the chance to shore up support on the campaign trail.

Prison time is a sentencing possibility if the jury decides to convict, though experts suggest it would be an unlikely sentence for the judge to go for in this case. If it happens, it still wouldn’t bar Trump from running in 2024, but it would further hamper his efforts to get back to the White House.

“It is certainly true that being convicted or even being in prison doesn’t prevent you from running for president or even from being elected,” said Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. “Assuming the office, though, would be a difficult situation if the president were in prison.”

Largely, experts are predicting the hush money case wraps up before Election Day, and some say it’s not out of the question that another one of Trump’s criminal indictments moves toward a jury before November.

The charges Trump faces are also noteworthy in that they’re “all in some way tied to his behavior as a politician,” noted Will Thomas, a business law professor at the University of Michigan, with the hush money case dating back to his 2016 run and the classified documents case reaching into his time post-Oval Office.

“It’s almost hard to step back and realize just how unprecedented these circumstances are,” Thomas said. “We’ve never had a president indicted before, sitting or former. Now, we have a president who’s facing not one but four criminal indictments, and we have the prospect of him being convicted in maybe one and possibly two before he actually has a chance to take office, if he were elected.”

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