June 14th, 2024

Trump delivers rambling response to guilty verdict, falsely blasting ‘rigged trial,’ slamming Cohen

By Michelle L. Price And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press on May 31, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump launched into attacks on the judge in his criminal trial and continued to undermine New York’s criminal justice system Friday as he tried to repackage his conviction on 34 felony charges as fuel, not an impediment, to his latest White House bid.

Trump spoke to reporters at his namesake tower in Manhattan on Friday, his return to campaigning a day after he was convicted of trying to illegally influence the 2016 election by falsifying business records to hide a hush money payment to a porn actor who claimed they had sex.

Trump, as defiant as ever, argued the verdict was illegitimate and driven by politics and sought to downplay the allegations underlying the case.

“It’s not hush money. It’s a nondisclosure agreement, totally legal, totally common,” he said.

In a message aimed to galvanize his supporters, he declared: “If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone.”

While the guilty verdict against him and his vow to fight appeared to motivate his base of supporters, including those who began pouring donations into his campaign, it’s unclear if any of this will help him with independent voters who will be decisive in the November election.

No former president or presumptive party nominee has ever faced a felony conviction or the prospect of prison time, and Trump is expected to keep his legal troubles central to his campaign. He has long argued without evidence that the four indictments against him were orchestrated by Democratic President Joe Biden to try to keep him out of the White House. The hush money case was filed by local prosecutors in Manhattan who do not work for the Justice Department or any White House office.

Trump chose to start Friday in the atrium of Trump Tower, the brass and rose marble lobby where he descended his golden escalator to announce his 2016 campaign nine years ago next month.

In his disjointed remarks, Trump initially started attacking Biden on immigration and tax policies before pivoting to his case, growling that he was threatened with jail time if he violated a gag order. He picked apart intricate parts of the case and trial proceedings as unfair, making false statements and misrepresentations as he did so.

Trump said he wanted to testify but said the judge wanted to go into every detail. “I would have liked to have testified,” he said. “But you would have said something out of whack like “˜it was a beautiful sunny day,’ and it was actually raining out.”

Trump, who had the right to testify but didn’t, also tested the limits of the gag order that prohibits him from publicly critiquing witnesses including Michael Cohen, calling his former fixer, the star witness in the case, “a sleazebag.”

His son Eric Trump and daughter-in-law Lara Trump joined him, but his wife, Melania Trump, who has been publicly silent since the verdict, was not seen.

Outside, on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, supporters gathered across the street were flying a giant red “TRUMP OR DEATH” sign that was flapping in front of a high-end boutique. A small group of protesters held up signs that said “Guilty” and “Justice matters.”

On Friday morning, his campaign announced it had raised $34.8 million as donations poured in after the verdict. That’s more than $1 million for each felony charge and more than his political operation raised in January and February combined.

Trump and his campaign had been preparing for a guilty verdict for days, even as they held out hope for a hung jury. On Tuesday, Trump railed that not even Mother Teresa, the nun and saint, could beat the charges, which he repeatedly labeled as “rigged.”

His top aides on Wednesday released a memo in which they insisted a verdict would have no impact on the election, whether Trump was convicted or acquitted.

The news nonetheless landed with a jolt. Trump, his team and reporters at the courthouse had been under the impression that the jury on Thursday would wrap up deliberations for the day at 4:30 p.m. Trump sat smiling and chatting with his lawyers as the proceedings seemed to be coming to a close.

Trump had spent the hours before the verdict was announced sequestered in the private courtroom where he had spent breaks throughout the trial, huddled with his attorneys and campaign aides, eating from a revolving lunch menu of McDonald’s, pizza, and subs.

As the jury was deciding his fate, he filled his time making calls, firing off social media missives and chatting with friends, including developer Steve Witkoff, who joined him in court, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who is considered a top vice presidential contender.

In a sign that they expected deliberations to continue, Trump’s holding room was outfitted with a television Thursday, according to two people familiar with the setup who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

Instead, Merchan announced that a verdict had been reached. Thirty minutes later, Trump listened as the jury delivered a guilty verdict on every count. Trump sat stone-faced while the verdict was read.

His campaign fired off a flurry of fundraising appeals, and GOP allies rallied to his side. One text message called him a “political prisoner,” even though he hasn’t yet found out if he will be sentenced to prison. The campaign also began selling black “Make America Great Again” caps to reflect a “dark day in history.”

Aides reported an immediate rush of contributions so intense that WinRed, the platform the campaign uses for fundraising, crashed. The $34.8 million raised Thursday did not include what Trump collected at his in-person fundraiser or any donations that continued to come in online Friday.

“President Trump and our campaign are immensely grateful from this outpouring of support from patriots across our country,” Trump’s senior campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles said in a statement. “President Trump is fighting to save our nation and November 5th is the day Americans will deliver the real verdict.”

Trump has long complained that the trial limited his campaign appearances for several weeks. “I want to campaign,” he had told reporters Thursday morning before a verdict was reached.

It is unclear, however, how much Trump’s schedule will ramp up in the days ahead. He held only a handful of public campaign events as the trial unfolded, despite the fact that he had Wednesdays, as well as evenings and weekends, to do what he wished.

He’s set in the upcoming two months to have his first debate with Biden, announce a running mate and formally accept his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention.

But before he goes to Milwaukee for the RNC, Trump will have to return to court on July 11 for sentencing. He could face penalties ranging from a fine or probation up to four years in prison.


Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.

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