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Trump’s Conviction Won’t Matter

The past eight years of legal and procedural war on Donald Trump have muted the effects of any new legal developments.

Credit: BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images

A New York jury convicted Donald Trump of 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with buying the silence of a porn star. He is the first American president to become a felon. The verdict is not unexpected from the deep blue Democratic enclave of Manhattan; the larger question is if lawfare will defeat Trump on November 5.

The jury found Trump faked records (hiding hush payments as “legal expenses”) to conceal the purpose of money given to the onetime attorney Michael Cohen. Trump was actually reimbursing Cohen for a $130,000 hush-money deal struck with the porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her account of an affair with Trump. The affair was in 2006, a decade before Trump was elected president. The falsification of business records took place in 2017, after Trump was already in the White House; it thus could not have influenced the election. He was found guilty nonetheless.


For the jury to reach its unanimous decision of guilt on all 34 charges, the key was believing two witnesses over Trump.

There are only two people on earth who know if an affair actually took place between Stormy and Trump. Trump said no, Stormy said yes; the jury agreed with her, fully absent of any further actual evidence. Daniels benefited greatly from her claims, and violated a nondisclosure agreement she voluntarily signed and accepted money for, to achieve her goals. “Proving” the affair was the base upon which the rest of the case to find Trump guilty was made.

It is important to understand that having an affair and paying off someone to remain quiet about it are not crimes, even for a presidential candidate. Nonetheless, the prosecutor claimed in closing arguments Trump “hoodwinked the American voter” with a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election. In addition to those who may have benefited from the plan, “all roads lead to the man who benefited the most: Donald Trump,” Joshua Steinglass told the jury.

But the witness whose testimony was fully believed by the jury, and whose testimony will see Trump receive a criminal penalty when he is sentenced on July 11 (four days before the Republican National Convention!), is Michael Cohen. In the total absence of physical evidence and in the face of Trump's claims to the contrary, Cohen served as connective tissue for many disparate elements.

It was Cohen who claimed Trump masterminded the plan to hide the payments to Stormy. It was Cohen who said the 34 checks and invoices, only nine of which were signed by Trump himself, were not for legal expenses as they were labeled but were to reimburse Cohen for paying off Daniels. Daniels’s name appeared on none of the 34 documents, a fact which instead of exonerating Trump became, under Cohen’s testimony, the linchpin of the conspiracy to falsify business records. Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told jurors the case hinged on the testimony of Michael Cohen, whom he called “the greatest liar of all time.”


Nearly incredibly (Trump’s defense team called Cohen a “walking reasonable doubt”), the jury believed Cohen based on nothing but his good word. This is despite Cohen having gone to jail for perjury, been caught lying to Congress, being disbarred, and actually telling a lie during his testimony at the instant trial. It remains difficult to understand how a jury could objectively grant so much credence to Cohen in the face of his record of lying to his own advantage. Every critical element of the case came down to whether his word could be trusted. That is what convicted Trump. You might have thought Robert De Niro was leading the deliberations.

There’s more. For jurors to have found Trump guilty of all 34 counts, they must have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt not only that Trump falsified or caused the falsification of business records “with intent to defraud” but also that he did so with the intent to commit or conceal another crime. That second element—the intent to commit or conceal another crime—elevates the charges to felonies and gets around the statute of limitations that usually governs misdemeanors such as false business records. To reach this conclusion, the jury had also to believe Cohen that Trump’s primary intent in all this was election influence and not, as Trump claimed, to hide the affair from his family.

There are many questions surrounding the jury’s verdict, and the fact pattern of the case itself, all of which should come out in Trump’s inevitable appeal. With that in mind, the actual legal conclusion of this case is far into the future, almost certainly after the November 5 election. 

But that raises the more important question: Does any of this matter to voters? This is lawfare, not justice, after all. “The real verdict is going to be November 5, by the people,” said Trump.

CNN, for example, concluded that “Donald Trump, who built a mystique as the brash epitome of power, has never been more powerless to dictate his own fate. His reputation, future, and even perhaps the White House’s destiny, [was] placed in the hands of 12 citizens of his native New York City, proving that not even once-and-possibly future commanders in chief are above the law.”

A victory for Democratic lawfare? Maybe not. Trump remains eligible to campaign for the presidency and serve if elected. None of the other lawfare shots is likely to conclude before November.

So, again, does it matter? A majority of registered voters said a guilty verdict in Trump’s trial would make no difference in their vote in the 2024 presidential election. Across all registered voters, 67 percent said a guilty verdict would have no effect on their vote, while 17 percent say they would be less likely to vote for him and 15 percent say they would be more likely, according to the NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll released before the verdict. An ABC News poll earlier this month showed that 80 percent of Trump’s supporters say they would stick with him even if he’s convicted of a felony in this case. Some say they would either reconsider their support (16 percent) or withdraw it (4 percent.) Similar polls followed Trump’s defeat in New York courts over supposed real estate fraud.

And Biden knows it. A Biden campaign spokesman said Trump’s conviction showed that “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.”

As in other Third World countries where the judiciary is used to smite political opponents, let us hope the people can see the truth, as they still hold the final card to be played. The Deep State has tried from day one to destroy Donald Trump—the Russian collusion and dossier hoax (including the pee-tape accusation), the Mueller investigation, the Emoluments Clause campaign, various calls for extra-legal interventions and coups, the Alfa Bank hoax, Impeachment I, Impeachment II, the demands that Mike Pence invoke the 25th Amendment, the media blackout of Hunter Biden laptop story, Twitter’s purge of conservative accounts, the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, Letitia James victimless prosecution, the effort to bankrupt Trump with the E. Jean Carroll civil judgment, Colorado’s attempt to remove Trump from state ballots over the 14th Amendment, and false statements about Trump’s desire to “take revenge,” “demand retribution,” ensure a “bloodbath,” and “end democracy.”

Trump, meanwhile, has characterized this trial, and the others, as unjust, rigged, lawfare pure and simple. He has kept the voters’ eyes not on who he is—his personal life has been baked into the vote long ago—but on what he represents to the electorate. As such, it is hard to see this guilty conviction, however unfair, as mattering too much come November.