Trump convicted

A Bird's Eye View

Posted 6/5/24

Last week a former president and the current Republican nominee for the presidency was convicted of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Each conviction is yet another piece of evidence …

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Trump convicted

A Bird's Eye View


Last week a former president and the current Republican nominee for the presidency was convicted of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Each conviction is yet another piece of evidence that Donald Trump is not fit to be president. The guilty verdicts came in a case which alleged that the former president and presumptive Republican nominee falsified business records as part of a cover-up, intended on keeping voters from knowing that he had an affair with an adult film star, something that he believed would be politically damaging.

Time will tell how significant this moment is in American history. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a prohibition on convicted felons running for the presidency. The case itself used an unusual legal theory to turn what would be otherwise misdemeanors into felony counts.

Yet, there is already at least one significance to this moment. In my last column I closed by saying that the autocrats were winning because liberals (people who believe in democracy, not people on the political left) can’t rally as many people with calls of due process and rule of law. But last week in the Manhattan courtroom we saw both work exactly the way our founders intended. Mr. Trump was afforded due process, the trial was transparent, the judges’ rulings are not secret, Mr. Trump had counsel available to represent him, and the 12 jurors who convicted him were chosen by both sides. We also saw that the rule of law applies to both us commoners and those in the ruling class. Autocrats around the world would never sit for a trial in front of a jury of their peers. Xi Jingpin of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey would never dream of sitting for such a trial and would not be required to do so in their countries. That the process was applied to a former president and that it worked is a testament to our democratic principles.

Beyond the high-minded significance of democracy working, there is also another significance. Donald Trump is now a convicted felon. The evidence presented in the case provided us even more insight into what Mr. Trump is willing to do in his pursuit for power, including breaking the law and ordering others to break the law on his behalf. Most likely this is the only verdict we will get against Mr. Trump before the election, the other cases will probably come to trial after November. Those cases allege even more serious behavior against Mr. Trump, that he spread lies and participated in a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and that he mishandled highly classified documents after leaving office. Twice Mr. Trump showed those documents to people who did not have authorization to see them.

It may not be a surprise that Mr. Trump conducted himself in an unethical way in dealing with the hush money payment to an adult film star, but it is important to acknowledge his behavior. Shortly after a tape was released of Mr. Trump saying that he grabs women by the genitals (he used a much cruder word), he instructed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, $130,000 so that she wouldn’t talk about the 2006 affair she had with him. The payoff in and of itself is not illegal. What is illegal is that Mr. Trump falsified his business documents when paying Mr. Cohen back in order to hide its true purpose, which was keeping information from the voters prior to the election. The burden of evidence was on the prosecution to prove that 1) Mr. Trump knew of the payments to Ms. Daniels and 2) Mr. Trump knew that the reimbursement payment to Mr. Cohen was falsified as a legal expense. They were, in the eyes of the jury, able to meet that high burden and prove both Mr. Trump’s personal involvement in the scheme as well as his motivation.

Justice Juan Merchan, who has been decried as “compromised” by the former president, did a superb job in ensuring Mr. Trump received a fair trial. He refused to allow the tape I mentioned before to be shown to the jury so that it wouldn’t prejudice the jury against Mr. Trump. But he also had to prevent Mr. Trump from attacking and threatening witnesses and jurors in an attempt to undermine the legal system, the end result was a $10,000 fine. It seemed that Mr. Trump only ceased his behavior once he was threatened with jail.

In the end, the jury heard all of the evidence presented, deliberated for nine hours, and came to a decision. This is how the American judicial system is designed to work. We are also going to get a chance to come to a decision on Mr. Trump in November in which we will get a vote. Mr. Trump has tried to undermine those elections by sowing seeds of doubt in their integrity much like he has tried to undermine our criminal justice system. Every time a democratic institution produces an outcome he doesn’t like his first instinct is to attack it. That alone should tell us enough about him to make our decision in November.