Trump Conviction No Reason for Complacency, Biden Campaign Warns

May 31, 2024 by Dan McCue
Trump Conviction No Reason for Complacency, Biden Campaign Warns
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

WASHINGTON — As Donald Trump was being found guilty Thursday of buying the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election and covering the deed in a stack of falsified business records, an excited gasp rose outside the Manhattan courthouse in which his trial was held.

As one observer put it, with some exaggeration, “both Trump fans outside the courthouse seemed pretty upset about it.”

The reality was small groups, both for and against the former president, were gathered in Thomas Paine Park across from the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse at 100 Centre Street.

A much larger group was composed mainly of looky-loos, hoping to catch a glimpse — and maybe a photograph of history being made, as Trump became the first former president ever to be convicted of a crime.

But even before the merely interested peeled away, leaving the partisans to curse each other and scuffle as they made their way from the park and into the adjacent Foley Square, the Biden-Harris campaign issued a warning to any of its supporters who might be feeling jubilant over the outcome of the jury trial.

“Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain. But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality,” said campaign spokesman Michael Tyler in a written statement.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president,” he said.

“The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater,” Tyler continued. 

“He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution, pledging to be a dictator ‘on day one’ and calling for our Constitution to be ‘terminated’ so he can regain and keep power,” he said, adding, “a second Trump term means chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence — and the American people will reject it this November.”

Indeed, Trump and his campaign wasted no time pivoting from his conviction on 34 felony counts over hush money payments made to Daniels and former Playboy Playmate and Trump paramour Karen McDougal, to the race for the White House.

“Crooked Joe Biden and the Democrats confined President Trump to a courtroom for more than eight hours a day for more than six weeks, and he’s still winning,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement to Fox News Thursday night.

“Now that he is fully back on the campaign trail, Biden and the Democrats better buckle up,” she said.

On Friday morning, hours before Trump himself was scheduled to speak at Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, Leavitt took to the X social media platform to announce the campaign had brought in “a record-shattering small-dollar fundraising haul” of $34.8 million in the hours after the verdict was announced.

“Nearly double the biggest day ever recorded for the Trump campaign on the WinRed platform,” the post said.

The unanimous verdict in the hush money case came just after 5 p.m. in New York, and the former president’s allies, ranging from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem almost immediately set about blasting the outcome, calling it a “travesty of justice,” handed down in a “kangaroo court” overseen by a “massively conflicted Biden donor and liberal judge.”

“President Trump did nothing wrong, and even the liberal media knows it,” declared Noem, whose aspirations to be Trump’s running mate went up in smoke after she published an account of shooting and killing her puppy.

Graham, a little more reasoned and less emotional than his counterparts, said, “This verdict says more about the system than the allegations. It will be seen as politically motivated and unfair, and it will backfire tremendously on the political left.”

Trump himself responded to the verdict outside the courthouse by declaring, “I’m a very innocent man.

“I’m fighting for our country. I’m fighting for our Constitution,” he said, flipping to campaign mode. 

“I think it’s just a disgrace … a rigged, disgraceful trial. … But we’ll keep fighting, we’ll fight till the end and we’ll win because our country has gone to hell,” he continued.

“The real verdict is going to be [delivered on] Nov. 5 by the American people,” he said.

But as he returned home to Trump Tower, only three things were absolutely certain.

The first was that he’d just joined his former national security adviser, former chief White House strategist, and his former campaign manager in the ranks of convicted felons.

The second was that he will be sentenced on July 11, just four days before the start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he will be formally named the party’s nominee for the presidency.

The third, is that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that bars a convicted felon from running for federal office.

Contacted by The Well News on Friday, Alexander A. Reinert, a criminal law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, said, “It is of course an extraordinary event — a former president has been convicted of a felony for essentially trying to prevent voters in the 2016 election from learning facts that might have influenced their vote.”

Should Trump win the election in November, but also have his conviction and a sentence of confinement of some kind still hanging over him, “it is almost certain that he would serve out that sentence after he has completed his term as president,” Reinert said.  

“Although there is no precedent, I think the consensus view is that the needs of having a president who can do his job would temporarily override New York State’s interest in having him serve his sentence,” he added.

As for Trump’s immediate future, it’s clear that after having been forced off the campaign trail four days a week for six weeks to attend the trial, he’s spoiling to get back to his trademark rallies.

Then, there’s the certain appeal of his conviction.

The first step will no doubt be a motion in appellate court to simply have the conviction set aside; if that fails, as is largely expected, he could eventually take his effort to overturn his conviction to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

As for what grounds the Trump team would pursue for dismissal, nobody currently knows.

One likely avenue would be to attack the admissibility of the testimony of former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, the main witness to tie Trump directly to the hush money scheme.

Trump’s defense team tried to disqualify Cohen’s testimony ahead of the jury trial, and once it couldn’t, it went on the attack, repeatedly blasting him as a convicted perjurer.

“Michael Cohen raised his right hand and lied to each of you,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the jurors during closing arguments.

Later, he referred to Cohen as the “human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

It was Cohen who paid $130,000 to Daniels in the days before Trump first won the White House. During the trial he said he had conspired with his former employer to fraudulently disguise the reimbursements for money as monthly payments for legal services.

Another tack the Trump defense team could take is to focus on the fact that the prosecution waged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was a case of “first impression” — in other words, one based on a novel interpretation of the law.

In this case that would be tying the state crime of falsifying business records to a broader violation of federal election law.

When attorneys argue that a case is one of first impression, they’re basically saying the exact issue brought before the court has never been addressed either by that court in a past case, or even within that court’s jurisdiction.

Therefore, the argument goes, the court would be deemed to have no binding authority on the matter.

Another possibility is that the Trump team will look for something in the actual jury instructions to try to get their client off the hook.

As to Trump’s appeal, Reinert said there’s no way anyone can predict the chance of success until they’ve seen the legal  briefs.  

“I would guess he will appeal on evidentiary grounds and on whether the jury instructions accurately conveyed the relevant law to the jury.  He may have arguments to make about the viability of the charges themselves.  But I think we will just have to wait to see the briefs,” he said.

Whichever route they choose, the appeals process itself is expected to take months, and is unlikely to conclude before the election.

For those who might think that bodes well for Trump, and that he might simply pardon himself if he wins, the reality is, he can’t do that in this case.

That’s because the case was brought by state, rather than federal, prosecutors.

The power to pardon New York state crimes lies with the New York governor, in this case Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, whose term ends in 2027. 

And Trump’s chances of winning her favor don’t seem likely.

On Thursday, after the verdict was announced, Hochul released a statement in which she said the outcome “reaffirmed that no one is above the law.”

Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research, a national public opinion and public affairs research firm located in Alexandria, Virginia, said he believes the ultimate impact of Trump’s conviction “will be minimal and at the margins.”

A consultant to a long line of Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham and Jim Inhofe, as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Tennessee Govs. Bill Lee and Bill Haslam, Ayres sees Trump as being uniquely positioned to withstand the fallout from his conviction.

The first, he said, is what he contends is the weakness.

“Joe Biden is fond of saying ‘Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative,’” Ayres said. “Well, the alternative to a convicted Donald Trump is a man whom 86% of Americans think is too old to serve effectively in a second term, coupled with a vice president whom virtually nobody believes is ready for primetime. 

“If the Democrats had a stronger candidate, the impact of this conviction would be greater,” he said.

The other factor, Ayres said, is Trump is “very good at dealing with negative events that come his way. 

“And, frankly, he’s also been lucky,” he said.

“For instance, in the classified documents case, to pull a judge who seems in no hurry to move the case along. And in the Jan. 6 case, to have the immunity argument [before the Supreme Court], delaying the trial until well after he is nominated by the Republican Party.”

Asked if he had a feeling for how the Supreme Court might rule in the latter, Ayres said, “I can’t imagine them swallowing the argument, which is kind of absurd, whole, but they may very well split the baby and say, ‘He’s not immune under these circumstances, but he is immune under these circumstances.

“If that is the case, they’d then remand the issue back to Judge Tanya Chutkan to have hearings to try to sort it out,” he said.

Another time consuming process?

“It is,” he said.

When it comes to the “conventional wisdom” about the impact of Trump’s conviction, both Reinert and Ayres said they think the “talking heads” of the media chattering class have it wrong.

“I have not been paying attention to the talking heads,” Reinert said. “To the extent people are making predictions about whether he will be sentenced to confinement, what the appeal will hold, etc., it is all speculation and I don’t find it is all that useful to speculate though I understand that this is an extremely newsworthy event.”

In one area, interpreting the impact on the polls, Ayres said he doesn’t think the talking heads have it right at all.

“They’re looking at polls that say things like, ‘Would you reconsider your support for Donald Trump if he is convicted of a crime?’ But that is a very different question from, ‘then would you vote for Joe Biden, the guy you think is too old to serve effectively?’

“So I think at the very most, [there’s] likely to be a percentage point or two swing here in the polls due to Trump’s conviction, but not very much at all,” Ayres said.

“Now, that said, a percentage point or two here and there in a swing state could make a difference. But it still it is not going to have the sort of momentous effect to change the fundamental dynamics of the race that some people were expecting.”

Ayres also said he doesn’t believe there will be a exodus from Trump, even by Republicans running in tight races in swing states.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I mean, Trump has so thoroughly taken over the Republican Party that if you’re a Republican candidate running for office, you are going to downplay and minimize the impact of this conviction.”

While the conclusion of Trump’s New York trial is a legal milestone, the reality is he still faces three more criminal cases.

Two of these cases are election interference cases, one in federal court (the aforementioned Jan. 6 case) and the other in state court in Georgia.

He also faces federal charges in Florida over his allegedly unlawful retention of classified documents after he left the White House.

None of these cases is likely to go to trial before the November election.

“It would be real tough to put a guy on trial in the middle of a presidential election,” Ayres said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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