With conviction in hush-money case, good fortune runs out for ‘Teflon Don’ | Donald Trump trials

Donald Trump’s good fortune with his criminal cases ended in dramatic fashion on Thursday afternoon, when a New York jury convicted him of concealing a criminal hush-money scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

The former president for months had extraordinary luck with his legal problems: one by one, the other three criminal cases became bogged down with intermediate appeals, and none is currently set for trial before the election in November.

In the federal criminal case over his retention of classified documents, Trump drew a judge who has been so slow to make rulings on straightforward issues that it is running four months behind schedule.

In the federal criminal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Trump succeeded in getting the US supreme court to hear his claim of presidential immunity, so it is nowhere near ready to go to trial.

And in the Georgia case brought by the Fulton county district attorney, Trump lucked out with the revelation that the top prosecutor had had an affair with her deputy, so there is not even a trial date on the docket.

Such was Trump’s success in playing the judicial system, people close to him joked he had lived up to the “Teflon Don” nickname – nothing seemed to stick – and that there should be a rule where delaying three cases past an election should result in them all being dismissed.

That run of good luck came to a sticky end on Thursday.

Around 4.15pm, Trump strode into the courtroom at 100 Centre Street, cheerful that the jury had not returned a verdict. He chatted with his lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, and the pair giggled together at the defense table.

The mood dramatically shifted 10 minutes later, when the judge told the room he would not be sending the jury home at 4:30pm as he had planned because they had reached a verdict and needed just a bit more time to fill out the verdict forms.

Trump’s demeanor darkened: his brow suddenly furrowed, his eyes narrowed and he frowned as quiet descended on the courtroom. When the jury returned guilty verdicts on all 34 counts, Trump looked miserable.

In some ways, the outcome was not surprising. With echoes of Al Capone, the judicial system in New York has a history of catching up with politically powerful figures who believe they might be insulated from the law.

Trump and his advisers for years had thought there was no way the Manhattan district attorney’s office would even bring a case tied to his hush-money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump almost forgot about the case even after he was indicted last March, people close to him said. The general belief was that it was the weakest of the cases and would likely be put on hold while the federal cases went first.

The Trump legal team – which broadly consists of the same lawyers across all four cases – were concerned most about the federal cases because they were brought by the special counsel Jack Smith, who carried the weight of the US justice department.

If they had to try one of the cases before the election, the Trump lawyers’ preference was always the documents case, having drawn a judge that Trump had appointed, and the ruby-red leanings of the jury pool of Fort Pierce, Florida.

Rather, they were far more concerned about the 2020 election interference case, because of the difficulty in defending against the core conspiracy charges and their nature might more readily suggest to voters Trump was a threat to democracy.

To that end, Trump’s lawyers mounted a full-court press to have that trial pushed until after the November election. In January, the US supreme court agreed to hear his claim of presidential immunity, and indefinitely paused the case.

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That left the schedule open for the New York criminal trial to proceed – and the “zombie case”, as prosecutors inside the Manhattan district attorney’s office termed it, abruptly became the trial with the potential to sink Trump’s 2024 campaign.

Still, even when the case was set for trial six weeks ago, Trump and his advisers thought there was an even chance that it would end with a hung jury and a mistrial. In such an event, Trump had planned to declare that a victory, people familiar with the situation said.

Trump’s advisers believed that a mistrial might even be the political equivalent of an acquittal, and all but guarantee Trump the presidency. Instead, Trump now finds himself forced to grapple with the politically perilous situation of what damage the conviction does to his campaign.

In internal and public polling, Trump has remained notably constant even after particularly damaging testimony during the trial from star witnesses like Daniels and his infamous former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Trump currently leads Joe Biden in five crucial battleground states that are expected to decide the election, according to a New York Times/Sienna poll in May. And Trump had the advantage that voters found the hush-money case the least serious of the four.

But Trump’s advisers concede the polls may be deceptive: voters could turn against Trump now that he is formally convicted, voters could turn against Trump when he is sentenced on 11 July, and voters may not have been well surveyed.

As recently as the day before the verdict, senior officials at the Trump 2024 campaign and his Super PAC were concerned Trump could lose support – and they were in the blind because of the difficulty of accurately polling the effect of a guilty verdict.

The Trump campaign and the Super PAC have internally read little into their own polls after realizing the difficulty in assessing voters’ perceptions without knowing the severity of the conviction and how Trump would react.

Trump’s advisers suggested that ultimately, the conviction could have little effect on voters when they cast their ballots in around six months, an eternity in politics. But Trump was clearly concerned about perception on Thursday, and quickly scheduled a press conference for the morning after.

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