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Examining the N.Y. criminal trial verdict against former President Donald Trump

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So Senor Martinez...

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...There was a little bit of news yesterday. How'd you get it?

MARTÍNEZ: I was asleep and my wife ran into the room, shook me awake, and then I had to start paying attention.

INSKEEP: Paying attention to the Donald Trump verdict. Former President Trump was convicted yesterday. I got the news when I was at home, listening to an anchor. I'm watching CNN; Jake Tapper is reading the verdicts - guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, a little repetitive, 34 times.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. Now, our staff was out on the streets, asking people what they thought of the news.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

ANTHONY SELF: A jury of his peers found him guilty, so he should be treated just like the rest of us.

YOGI YEAGER: It'll all be overturned.

VERONICA BYRNES: You know, he's still a citizen. I don't care what his title is; you do something wrong, you should just get punished for it.

KIM BUNTING: Whether or not it actually really is true, there's going to be 50% of the country that's going to go, no, it's not really real.

DANNY RITCHIE: It's not going to affect my vote.

MARTÍNEZ: All right - that was Anthony Self of North Carolina, Yogi Yeager of Texas, Veronica Byrnes of Washington State, Kim Bunting of Texas and Danny Ritchie of North Carolina.

INSKEEP: Glad they spoke with us, and we have some more reactions, and this is pretty cool - we sent somebody into the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Fla. The Cuban American population often votes Republican, and here are some Trump supporters. Let's listen first in Spanish.

MIGUEL SAAVEDRA: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIBEL GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

INSKEEP: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: (Speaking Spanish) Now, that was Miguel Saavedra. At first, he said it's impossible that 12 jurors found Trump completely guilty. And then we heard from Maribel Gonzalez, who said, we don't believe in that trial, and we know that Donald Trump will appeal.

INSKEEP: I want to give you one more reaction here, A.

MARTÍNEZ: Sure.

INSKEEP: My 19-year-old was out with a friend and saw this on TV wherever she was, and then she comes home, and she sits down at the kitchen table - boom. She says, OK, what does this mean? I'm like, well, you know, I work really early in the morning...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...And I got to go to bed, but I'll stay; she's got all these questions.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Does he go to jail? Not today, but it's plausible, after sentencing in July, things could happen. Can he still run for president? Yes, he certainly can. She had all kinds of questions.

MARTÍNEZ: You had answers.

INSKEEP: Yeah, well, I answered the best I could...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...But it does help to bring a lawyer into this, so this morning, we brought up Kim Wehle, who is a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a regular guest here, and I asked Kim first about the evidence; what convicted this man?

KIM WEHLE: I think the documents and the witnesses that the government laid out told a very strong story, and the defense didn't give an alternative narrative. That is, they explained there was a hush money scheme; they had Donald Trump on audiotape talking about Karen McDougal's hush money payment in August of 2016; Access Hollywood came out in October, and then Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels right before the election, using his home equity line of credit. And then Hope Hicks, Donald Trump's - one of his closest aides, said that she didn't believe that he would have done that on his own, and the defense didn't really give an alternative scenario. Michael Cohen was the only direct testimony of Donald Trump actually ordering this hush money payment, but direct evidence isn't required in court, Steve, inferences are enough, and I think that they did that.

INSKEEP: And of course, the defense accused Michael Cohen of lying. The defense lawyer even used the word perjury, I believe, briefly in the courtroom yesterday, but the verdict is what the verdict is. You describe how there's plenty of evidence that the payments were made, that Trump knew about the payments, that Trump knew what he was doing. That's what the jury found, but the next question is whether the case stands up on appeal, given, in part, the way it was prosecuted. It was seen as a novel prosecution, where this misdemeanor was elevated to a felony because it was supposed to be connected to this other crime of election interference. Is that case vulnerable on appeal?

WEHLE: Well, falsification of business records itself is not a novel theory, and it's clear under the statute it can be elevated to a felony if it's used to conceal another crime. What's maybe, you know, new is the idea that the other crime is duping voters in the election by covering up these payments and documenting them as legal fees. You know, on the facts, I don't think there's going to be a reversal. The jury decisions tend to hold a tremendous amount of weight, but there were some threshold motions. There were some questions in the - disputes in the jury instructions, the actual laying out the law...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

WEHLE: ...That could be reversed on appeal.

INSKEEP: Let's discuss one of those just very briefly, because Trump's supporters made much of this. The judge said, you need to find that he falsified business records and also that he was - committed another crime, and it can be one of several different crimes. Is that a normal thing, and is that a legal thing for the judge to have said?

WEHLE: Well, under the New York law, there were three theories that the judge justified or found would be OK, so yes. Again, there's not a lot of precedent on this, but new cases, new precedents made every day - just because this hasn't happened before doesn't mean it's illegal.

INSKEEP: OK - so sentencing comes in July. How does that work?

WEHLE: Well, there'll be a pre-sentencing report, with recommendations made by, you know, the people behind that. There's going to be post-trial motions under New York law, and then the judge will make a determination. Each of the 34 counts carries four years. Presumably, they will run concurrently, but the judge could give anything from probation - which won't be great for Donald Trump - that holds some restrictions - all the way to potentially four years in prison.

INSKEEP: OK. We'll keep following the story. Kim, thanks so much.

WEHLE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's legal analyst Kim Wehle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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