Recapping the Trump hush money charges, trial, verdict and questions

Former President Donald Trump was convicted this week of 34 counts of felony business fraud in connection with hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump will be sentenced on July 11 and has pledged to appeal the conviction.

The guilty verdict, while a major political moment, does not prevent Trump from continuing his presidential campaign nor from serving should he win the White House.

Here’s how we got here and what’s next:

The indictment

Trump was indicted in March 2023 by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, on 34 charges tied to the hush money payments. The indictment alleged that Trump was a part of an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election.

While hush money payments are not illegal in themselves, each charge was tied to a specific allegedly false entry among the financial records of the Trump Organization.

Trump has argued that the payments to Michael Cohen, his former fixer who paid Daniels, were correctly labeled as legal expenses.

Key witnesses and evidence

The physical evidence was key. Prosecutors showed checks and ledgers demonstrating payments from Trump’s company to his former attorney, including a handwritten note outlining a payment plan for Cohen. CNN’s Way Mullery has a great look at the documents here.

David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, testified that his company worked with Cohen on Trump’s behalf to squash unflattering stories during the 2016 election. He also spoke about putting up the money to catch-and-kill the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story about an alleged affair with Trump, and about Trump’s anger when the story went public in 2016 and 2018.

Daniels, the adult film star who allegedly had an affair with Trump (he continues to deny it), testified about her encounter with him at a golf tournament in 2006, often in explicit detail. Defense attorneys accused Daniels of fabricating the story to make money.

Cohen walked jurors through how he worked with Pecker on Trump’s behalf and testified that Trump was aware and approved of how Cohen would be falsely repaid for the 2016 payment to Daniels of $130,000 as legal services.

Cohen’s credibility as a convicted felon and perjurer was key during closing arguments, where Trump’s lawyers said Cohen couldn’t be trusted while prosecutors said jurors should use his testimony as part of the larger theme along with the physical evidence. The judge also explicitly told jurors that Trump could not be convicted based solely on Cohen’s testimony.

Trump did not testify. The judge instructed the jury that Trump’s decision must not be used as a factor in their deliberations.

The gag order

Early on, Judge Juan Merchan put Trump under a gag order, later expanding it and fining the defendant a total of $10,000 for various violations.

After he was barred from making statements about witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff and the family members of prosecutors and court staff, Trump launched a series of posts on his social media platform. The gag order did not cover remarks about District Attorney Alvin Bragg or the judge or his family, but it was later modified to include family members.

Trump railed against the gag order every day during the trial and again on May 31 when he spoke at Trump Tower the day after the verdict. It remains in effect.

Sentencing and appeal

The 34 charges against the former president are Class E felonies, the lowest level in New York law. As a first-time offender, Trump is unlikely to face any prison time.

However, that’s up to Merchan, who will sentence Trump on July 11.

Trump, however, has said he will appeal. The typical appeals process for a convicted defendant in New York state can take almost a year or more, but a defendant can’t appeal until after sentencing. After that, Trump will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal. His team would then typically have six months to complete procedural requirements such as filing their appellate argument as well as filing other relevant documents like the trial transcripts.

After more filings from each side, a five-judge panel for the Appellate Division First Department would then hear oral arguments from both sides and issue a written decision, which could take months. The panel is not subject to a deadline. Trump could also go up to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

At the same time, Trump could ask Merchan to stay his sentence until after his appeal is over. And if Merchan rejects that request, Trump could ask the appeals court for a stay of his sentence while he appeals.

The big question: Can Trump win the White House?

The legal answer is that yes, he is absolutely eligible to run. Trump meets the basic constitutional criteria. He’s a natural-born citizen of over 35 years old and has lived in the US for at least 14 years.

The political answer is that we’ll have to wait and see. Trump’s campaign claimed it raised almost $53 million in the 24 hours following the verdict (those numbers must be confirmed in FEC filings), and Republicans from up and down the political spectrum came out in support of the GOP’s likely nominee.

What about his other cases?

Trump is still facing 54 charges in three other cases, but he has been successful in putting those cases on ice with a never-ending barrage of legal filings and appeals. No other trial dates are pending.

The federal election subversion criminal case in Washington, DC, has been on hold while the US Supreme Court considers Trump’s claims of presidential immunity.

The judge overseeing his classified documents case in Florida has indefinitely postponed the trial and continues to schedule hearings on various legal issues.

And the Georgia election interference case is in legal limbo while Trump and several of his co-defendants try to disqualify the Atlanta-area prosecutor who brought the charges.

What else? Can Trump buy guns? Travel?

A flood of questions came in this week from CNN readers asking about everything from Trump’s eligibility to vote, his ability to travel abroad or his right to buy firearms. CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf and Devan Cole answered them all here.

CNN’s Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle, Jeremy Herb, Zachary B. Wolf and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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