Trump, first ex-president ever convicted of a crime, slams New York trial

In meandering address resembling campaign speech, Trump repeats unfounded claim President Biden behind hush-money trial.

Donald Trump has ratcheted up his unfounded claims that his New York hush-money trial was a political hit job, a day after becoming the first former president in United States history to be convicted of criminal charges.

Speaking at Trump Tower in New York City on Friday morning, Trump delivered a meandering speech in which he portrayed the trial as a “scam” and “rigged”, while telling his supporters they could also be targeted.

“This is case where if they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone,” he told reporters. “These are bad people. These are in many cases, I believe, sick people.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked prosecutors and the judge involved in the case, and has said – without evidence – that the administration of US President Joe Biden was connected to the prosecution.

“This is all done by Biden and his people,” Trump said without providing any evidence. He said he plans to appeal the verdict.

Trump’s remarks – which oscillated between condemnation of the trial and his now familiar stump speeches – came less than 24 hours after New York City jurors found the former president guilty on all 34 felony counts he faced in his widely watched trial.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued that Trump falsified business documents to cover up reimbursements paid to his personal fixer and former lawyer Michael Cohen, for hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors said the payments to Daniels – in exchange for her silence over an alleged affair with Trump – were part of a wider scheme to withhold negative information that would have hurt Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, which he won.

They argued that Trump sought “to defraud the voting public”, in violation of New York state law.

The upcoming US presidential election loomed large over the New York trial, and Trump’s conviction could shake up the campaign.

Trump, who is set to face off against Democratic President Joe Biden on November 5, has repeatedly said – without evidence – that the hush-money case was part of a coordinated effort to derail his re-election bid.

Reporting from outside Trump Tower on Friday, Al Jazeera’s John Hendren noted, however, that “Biden didn’t have anything to do with [the case]”.

“This was a New York jury … [Biden] is not in the chain of command of the district attorney of New York. There’s really no way Biden could have intervened in this particular case,” Hendren said.

“But Trump is going to make this a campaign issue. He says the ultimate verdict is going to come in November … and there’s no reason to believe the Republican Party will back off of him. So far the support among Republicans has been near-universal.”

Donald Trump
Trump comments after he was found guilty by a New York jury on May 30 [Justin Lane/Pool via Reuters]

GOP leaders back Trump

Trump’s allies and top members of the Republican Party have united around the former president in the wake of his conviction, with his son, Donald Trump Jr, referring to his father as a “political prisoner” in a fundraising email.

On Friday, Trump’s 2024 campaign announced what it called its largest single-day, small donor funding haul ever, raking in $34.8m since the verdict was announced.

Many Republicans have echoed Trump in arguing – again without evidence – that his conviction was the result of a politicised judiciary.

Mike Johnson, the staunchly conservative Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, slammed the trial as a “purely political exercise, not a legal one”.

Even those who have more recently sought to distance themselves from Trump, including Texas Senator John Cornyn, called the verdict “a disgrace”.

“Now more than ever, we need to rally around @realdonaldtrump, take back the White House and Senate, and get this country back on track,” Cornyn wrote on X.

In a brief statement following the verdict, a spokesperson for the White House counsel said, “We respect the law” but added there would be no additional comment.

‘Pivotal point’

Addressing the verdict for the first time on Friday, Biden joined a chorus of Democrats who have said the jury’s decision was a shining example of equality under US law, regardless of how powerful a defendant is.

Biden said the guilty verdict reaffirmed the “sacred principle that no one is above the law”.

“It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don’t like the verdict,” he added.

Despite his conviction, Trump is expected to be confirmed as the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee at the party convention in July.

Under the US Constitution, anyone convicted of a felony can still run for and win the presidency as long as they are over 35 years of age, are a “natural-born” citizen of the US, and have been a resident of the country for at least 14 years.

The Republican National Convention will be held just days after Trump is set to be sentenced in the New York hush-money case on July 11, though the sentencing hearing could be delayed pending expected appeals from his defence team.

The ex-president also faces three other criminal indictments, two of which relate to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Biden, but none are expected to go to trial before November’s vote.

But it remains unclear what political fallout of the guilty verdict in New York will have for Trump.

Polls have shown most Republican voters will not be swayed by the prospect of electing a convicted felon to the country’s highest office.

However, some recent polls have indicated that a conviction could turn some undecided voters off Trump, or see a small percentage of his supporters decide they can no longer cast a ballot for him.

In an election expected to be decided by razor-thin margins, that could make a difference, experts have said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday, Rina Shah, a political strategist and commentator, said the prevailing Republican view appears to be that the conviction “bolsters [Trump’s] claim that this was a politically motivated witch hunt that was predetermined by Democrats”.

But while the Republican leadership has largely coalesced around Trump, Shah said there are large swaths of the party with more faith in the justice system.

“I do think that right now, the Republican Party sits in a moment that will determine its fate for the next decade at least,” she said. “In the next few months, this is a pivotal point.”

Source: Al Jazeera