© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Donald Trump has been convicted. What comes next?


It's been two days since a jury found former President Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. But having a verdict doesn't mean the case is over. There's still sentencing appeals and oh, yeah, by the way, a presidential campaign.

To talk about all of that and more, I'm joined by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. I started the conversation by asking Domenico what his thoughts are now that we have a conviction.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, I mean, you know, I mean, I'm trying not to be jaded politically, but I'm not sure what's going to change. I mean, politically, I'm thinking about. I mean, this is still a huge moment in American history, no doubt about it. And, you know, all of the polls going in may not be the polls coming out of this because I think there were a lot of people who weren't paying that close attention to this. They are going to be now looking at, what does conviction mean, what was going on? And they're going to be going to their favorite news sources to find out how they feel about that. For a lot of Republican-leaning independents, that might mean Fox News and conservative media, which might radicalize them to be more in the pro-Trump camp, actually.


MONTANARO: And then there could be others who kind of sit there and wonder, gee, I don't know. I wasn't really thinking about this very much. Maybe it could move them. But honestly, it's going to likely be at the margins. And this is not what he wanted at all, just to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as convicted felon. And he can't change that likely before the election.

DETROW: Carrie, what about you?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Yeah, I'm thinking two things. One is about the 12 people who reached a unanimous verdict against the former president of the United States in less than two days' time. And, you know, what's happening with them in the aftermath of this incredible public service that was so hard and may reverberate with them for a long time to come? And then the second thing I'm thinking about is the contrast between the kind of hothouse rhetoric we've heard from Donald Trump and some of his allies, who have also made their way inside courtrooms in recent years, people like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

And, you know, these people say lots and lots of things when they're not on the witness stand or not on trial. And at the same time, when we have had actual juries examine the contentions of prosecutors in these cases, and juries have found people like Donald Trump and Paul Manafort guilty. So even though we hear the former president give lengthy remarks again today about how the system was biased against him and how everybody was so unfair, juries have seen this remarkably differently.

DETROW: And, yeah, I think there is something to that for all the (inaudible) of 12 people drawn at random. They didn't volunteer to be there, sitting there for weeks, taking it really seriously by all accounts, and reaching a decision like this.

JOHNSON: It's enormously important. And as many people said yesterday, it is a signal that the law can be applied against anyone, whether, you know, you're a man on the street or the former president of the United States of America.

DETROW: And yet, we saw Trump and his allies preemptively for months and months attack the system, say that this was a corrupt system, that this was all about politics. This was about Joe Biden and his allies seeing that Trump is leading in the polls and trying to take him down. You saw this drumbeat every single day. Trump came out into the hallway of this courthouse and said that. And after the verdict was reached, those messages just amplified, from Donald Trump to the speaker of the House, to many other key Republicans just trying to tear down the judicial system. Carrie, that's going to continue through the election. How important to you is this moment for the rule of law? What comes next?

JOHNSON: Well, the system worked, according to the district attorney, Alvin Bragg. He said they did their jobs and so did the jury. And Trump has every right to appeal. He says he's going to appeal, and he may have really good grounds to appeal this verdict in New York. That said, attacks on this system are dangerous, literally dangerous.

We have the attorney general and the FBI director, the FBI director, who is a Republican, and part of...

DETROW: Appointed by Trump.

JOHNSON: Appointed by Trump - who have said these attacks on public servants, people like judges, prosecutors, jurors are dangerous. We do know that in the past, some people have answered calls from the former president and others. We know a guy stormed the FBI field office in Ohio after the Mar-a-Lago search. These words have consequences. And I'm a little bit worried, as are senior Justice Department officials, about the consequences of some of this dangerous rhetoric, which, by the way, has been adopted by most Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

DETROW: Carrie, let's talk about what happens next. After the verdict was read, Judge Merchan said that sentencing will happen on July 11. What's going to happen that day, Carrie? And what sort of sentences are possible?

MONTANARO: Well, what's going to happen in advance of that day is Trump's lead defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, has said he's going to be filing some additional court papers seeking to set aside the verdict. That seems unlikely at this stage. Trump is going to have to sit down with a member of the court operations team and answer some questions so the court officers can prepare a report for Judge Merchan. And then on July 11, the judge has a number of options before him - home confinement, probation, nothing, basically, up to four years of incarceration on each count.

And these are low-level felonies under New York state law. Trump is 77 years old. He has no prior convictions. And so the judge is going to have to balance some of those facts with the idea that the former president repeatedly violated the gag order Judge Merchan put on the case, and he has condemned the judge in the harshest possible terms today, calling him a devil at his news conference in New York.

DETROW: Is it fair to say that a jail sentence is unlikely or do we just not know?

JOHNSON: Here's the challenge. Picture in your mind the former president, who remains a protectee of the Secret Service, locked up somewhere with Secret Service agents next to him. Is that going to happen? It's really hard to imagine. But so many things about Donald Trump have been hard to imagine and have come to pass. This is a hard call for the judge. I'm not sure which way he's going to go on it.

DETROW: Dominico, as soon as the date was said and we got the word, it was just like the peak clash of these dual worlds. On one hand, somebody is now a convicted felon. On the other hand, somebody is a leading contender to become president of the United States. July 11, he's sentenced. Just a few days later, July 15, Republicans gather in Milwaukee to nominate Donald Trump for president for the third consecutive election. What a contrast. And there's absolutely no world that Republicans are going to say, wait a second, should we find another candidate?

MONTANARO: Yeah, what a way to think about it, the third consecutive election. I don't think I'd actually absorbed that completely. But yeah, I mean...

DETROW: Swimming in it.

MONTANARO: ...July 11 being the sentencing date, and then just four days later, the convention happening. And what are conventions for? They're for shoring up your base, for making sure that the house is in order, for making sure there's no cracks in the foundation. And they're certainly going to do that. They're going to use this just days after the sentencing. You know that this is going to be almost a celebration of him being persecuted is the way that they're going to look at it.

You know, then I'm looking at, obviously, before that, the June 27 debate. How do both Trump and Biden deal with this? You know, and then you've got the Democratic convention. And what our polling had found was that younger voters, in particular, were among the most likely to say that they could have their minds changed one way or the other based on a verdict. One in five said that they'd be more likely to vote for Trump if he was found not guilty. One in five said that they'd be less likely to vote for him if he's found guilty.

Now, some of that is partisans. That doesn't exactly mean that that's how they're going to vote. But with Biden struggling with this group, a key pillar Democratic group, is he able to use this conviction to move them at all and to shore them up by or after or during the convention?

DETROW: Carrie, we've talked about sentencing. We've kind of talked in passing about appeals. There's definitely going to be appeals. There was a lot of conversation about the areas those appeals could focus on, particularly the jury instructions. Can you explain why that is and what kind of shape you think the appeals could take?

JOHNSON: The jury instructions are super boring often for reporters covering these trials, but they're also super important because jurors take them so seriously. So if there's a point in a jury instruction that's confusing or vague or could lead jurors to kind of disagree with each other or potentially violate a defendant's constitutional rights to notice over what they're being charged with, for instance, those things are often very fruitful for defense lawyers seeking to overturn a conviction and at least win a new trial. And that's what Todd Blanche is going to be trying to do for Donald Trump.

You know, there's the testimony of Stormy Daniels, which ventured into territory involving the night that Stormy Daniels and the former president allegedly spent together, that perhaps even the judge didn't want to hear, and questions about whether that went too far and may have improperly influenced some of the jurors. There's some complaining that Trump has done today about the venue in New York and the judge having alleged conflicts. That may feature in a potential Trump appeal but seems less likely to meet with success than things based on the law and the application of the law, like the jury instructions that Daniels testimony and a few other things.

DETROW: Since we have spent so much of this year talking about legal timelines and how they match or don't match with election timelines, any sense how long an appeal like that typically takes to get heard, to get a ruling on?

JOHNSON: Oh, gosh. It could take months, if not more than a year. And the question is whether the intermediate appeals court in New York state wants to expedite matters. Even if they do, Trump has signaled that if he has the grounds to, he'd like to take this all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And there's really no way that that can get done before November, it seems to me.

DETROW: Domenico, I want to give you the final thought. For a while, we ended our podcasts with me asking, did anything happen this week that could materially alter these cases of the election? I feel like that's a clear yes on this week.

MONTANARO: Well, or not materially change anything when it comes to the election, which is what I've been hearing from Republican and Democratic strategists in feeling like, you know, sure. Let's wait a couple weeks to see what the polling results show and how people are. But, you know, I mean, views of Trump and Biden are so locked in. And there's really such a slim, slim, slim percentage of people who are truly persuadable that it might not make a huge difference. But, you know, at the margins, that's where this election is likely to be won or lost. So it maybe makes a key difference in that case.

DETROW: Domenico Montanaro, Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Happy to do it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. 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.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.