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Jury finds Donald Trump guilty on all 34 counts at hush money trial

DONALD Trump became the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime when a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

After deliberations over two days, the 12-member jury announced it had found Trump guilty on all 34 counts he faced. Unanimity was required for any verdict.

Trump watched the jurors dispassionately as they were polled to confirm the guilty verdict.

Justice Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, days before the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention expected to formally nominate Trump for president.

Merchan thanked the jurors for their service. “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. The choice is yours,” Merchan said.

The verdict plunges the United States into unexplored territory ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, when Trump, the Republican candidate, will try to win the White House back from Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing and was expected to appeal.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters afterwards.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said, adding: “I am a very innocent man.”

He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though others convicted of that crime often receive shorter sentences, fines or probation. Incarceration would not prevent him from campaigning, or taking office if he were to win.

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Trump will not be jailed ahead of sentencing.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden, 81, locked in a tight race, and Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump some support from independent and Republican voters.

A source familiar with the Trump campaign’s inner workings said the verdict was expected to prompt him to intensify deliberations on picking a woman as his vice presidential running mate.

Biden’s campaign said the verdict showed that no one was above the law, but noted that Trump still would be able to run for president.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” the campaign said in a statement.

The jury notified the court they had reached a verdict at 4:20 p.m. (2020 GMT) and read out all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 p.m.

Trump’s fellow Republicans quickly condemned the verdict. “Today is a shameful day in American history,” House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents after sitting through a five-week trial that featured explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump’s then-fixer Michael Cohen testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election, when he faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

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Cohen testified he handled the payment, and that Trump approved a plan to reimburse him through monthly payments disguised as legal work. Trump’s lawyers hammered Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal record and imprisonment and his history of lying.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asked Merchan to throw out the guilty verdict, arguing that it was based on the unreliable testimony of Cohen. Merchan denied his request.

Trump’s near-certain appeal of his historic conviction on criminal charges in New York is likely to focus on porn star Daniels’ salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter as well as the novel legal theory prosecutors used in the case, but he faces long odds, legal experts said.

Falsifying business documents is normally a misdemeanour in New York, but prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated it to a felony on the grounds that Trump was concealing an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump complained that he could not get a fair trial in his heavily Democratic hometown.

The case was widely regarded as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. Jurors heard testimony of sex and lies that have been public since 2018, although the charges themselves rested on ledger accounts and other records of Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was known as the “zombie case” because Bragg brought it back to life after his predecessor opted not to bring charges.

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This case was likely the only one to go to trial before the election, as procedural challenges delayed the others.

If elected, Trump could shut down the two federal cases that accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and mishandling classified documents after leaving office in 2021. He would not have the power to stop a separate election-subversion case taking place in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases and has portrayed his various legal troubles as an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hurt him politically.

By LUC COHEN, JACK QUEEN and ANDY SULLIVAN

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