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The Donald Trump verdict explained — and what comes next

Donald J Trump convicted court case DJT found guilty all 34 felony counts hush money trial
Justin Lane/Pool/Getty Images

Read all about Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, the possibility of jail time, and more.

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Donald Trump was found guilty Thursday of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up his payment of $130,000 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter between the two, as he feared any revelation would hurt his chances of being elected president in 2016. This was the first criminal trial of any former U.S. president and the first conviction. Here we explain the trial, the charges, and the parties involved.

What was Donald Trump charged with?

His charges all related to creating false business records, illegal in New York State, in order to cover up the deal with Daniels. Eleven counts dealt with invoices from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyers and so-called fixer, who paid Ms. Daniels; 11 were for checks that Trump had either signed or funded to reimburse Cohen; and 12 were for accounting records regarding the reimbursement. The payments to Cohen were supposedly for legal services.

Cohen, who has now turned against Trump, testified at the trial that he had taken out a home equity line of credit to make the payment and that he knew he was acting on Trump’s behalf.

“I was doing everything I could and more to protect my boss,” he said at the trial, adding, “I would not lay out $130,000 for [a nondisclosure agreement] needed by somebody else.” There was “significant urgency” to buying Daniels’s silence, he said, because the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitalia had just surfaced — it was October 2016, a few weeks before the election. Trump feared losing votes, especially from women and the Christian right.

The trial also saw Cohen testify about “catch and kill” deals he made with David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, to suppress other negative stories about Trump.

Cohen eventually spent time in prison for campaign finance violations in connection with the payment to Daniels. He had testified in federal court on that charge that he made the payment at Trump’s direction.

Trump was not charged in federal court but by the Manhattan district attorney in state-level court. DA Cy Vance opened the investigation in 2019, and Alvin Bragg continued it after he succeeded Vance in 2021. In January 2023, Bragg impaneled a new grand jury to look into the matter, and it brought the charges against Trump two months later.

Who is Stormy Daniels?

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has acted in both adult and mainstream films. The latter include The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. She has also written and directed films, and she was inducted into the Adult Video News Hall of Fame in 2014. In a series of tweets in 2019, Daniels confirmed she is bisexual.

She said she had the sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, having met him when her studio sponsored a hole at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. Trump told her she must be smart to direct films, and he invited her to dinner and to his hotel suite, she testified. In the suite, she spanked Trump with a magazine, and later went to the bathroom, and when she came out, he was on the bed in his underwear, she recounted. She was “startled,” she said, and Trump rose and stood between her and the door. His manner wasn’t threatening, but she did perceive a power imbalance between them, she noted. The sex act was brief, and she felt ashamed afterward, she said. Trump was married to his current wife, Melania, at the time, and Melania had recently given birth to their son, Barron.

Daniels saw Trump a few times over the following years, but she rejected his sexual advances. For a while, she tried to interest media outlets in the story of her encounter with Trump, but there wasn’t much interest until the Access Hollywood tape was released in 2016. But that led to the payment and the nondisclosure agreement, which used pseudonyms for her and Trump. She also signed a statement in 2018 denying the sex occurred, but then she wrote about it in an autobiography published that year. She testified in court that the 2018 statement was false.

Daniels has received praise from many quarters for her role in the trial, with some women saying it showed the defense’s “slut-shaming” of her didn’t work, and LGBTQ+ people taking some pride in the fact that a queer woman helped win the guilty verdicts.

What happens to Trump now?

Judge Juan Merchan will sentence Trump July 11, just a few days before the Republican National Convention begins, with Trump as the party’s presumptive nominee. Merchan could impose prison time (each count carries a sentence of up to four years), probation, or fines. Many political and legal observers doubt that Trump will be imprisoned, as this is his first conviction and the crimes were nonviolent, but anything can happen. Trump plans to appeal the verdict. And he can still run for president — the U.S. Constitution does not bar convicted felons from the presidency.

Is Trump a political prisoner?

The short answer: no.

Trump has spent much time railing against the prosecutor, judge, and jury for supposed bias. Bragg is a Democrat in a heavily Democratic city, and Merchan’s daughter Loren Merchan has worked for a firm that does fundraising for Democratic candidates. Merchan himself made small contributions to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and progressive groups in 2020. But judges and juries are expected to put any political or personal feelings aside and concentrate on the evidence presented. When the jurors were chosen, they were asked if they could be objective, and Merchan instructed them to consider only the evidence when reaching their verdict.

This all hasn’t kept Trump from claiming the charges against him were politically motivated, saying the trial was rigged and disgraceful, and verbally attacking Bragg, Judge Merchan, and Merchan’s daughter — violations of a gag order from Merchan. After the verdict came out Thursday, he continued those rants and proclaimed his innocence.

What about Trump's other trials?

Trump faces criminal charges in three other trials, but they most likely won’t occur until after the election.

In connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, Trump is charged with four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Special Counsel Jack Smith, working for the U.S. Department of Justice, filed the charges last August in federal court in the District of Columbia. The trial was set to take place this year, but it has been postponed while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the question of whether a president is immune from prosecution for acts committed while in office. The high court will issue rulings through June, so we will see one soon, but its hearing of the immunity case has certainly caused a delay.

In Georgia, Trump and several associates are charged with crimes related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state, which Biden carried. He is charged with 10 counts there, including violation of Georgia’s anti-racketeering act. Prosecutors planned for an August trial, but the case has been complicated and delayed by the Trump team’s efforts to have Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis disqualified after it was revealed she’d had a romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired. The Georgia Court of Appeals is considering the disqualification matter.

And in Florida, Trump is charged in federal court with 40 counts of wrongdoing related to the retention of classified documents after he was no longer president and therefore was not authorized to possess them. However, Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed judge handling the trial, canceled a May trial date and has not set a new one.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.